When Myra Williams looks back on her life – her marriage to her first cousin, singer Jerry Lee Lewis, in 1957 when she was just 13, their good and bad times together, the two children they had, the permanent damage their relationship inflicted on Lewis’ career and legacy – she sometimes wonders if it was all just a dream.
“But it happened,” the 78-year-old author and former real estate agent told The Times by phone from his home in Atlanta, a day after Lewis died. “It was doing. Everything happened to me.”
Everything “gigantic,” she said, happened during her teenage years, cataloging the milestones: married at 13; a mother at 14; losing her first child when she was 17; giving birth to her second child at 19.
“Yeah, it was turbulent as a teenager being a wife and a mother,” Williams said. “But through it, I found my strength. And there’s almost nothing that can get me off my block at this point.
In the hours after Lewis’s death at 87, the rock legend’s obituaries flooded the internet, each featuring a transitional paragraph noting that Lewis’ star fell as fast as it rose when her marriage to Williams became public knowledge while touring Britain a year after her debut album with the hit ‘Great Balls of Fire’ rose to number two on the pop charts.
“I was the wrong thing in her life,” Williams said, describing how people viewed her. “It was because of our marriage that his career fell apart. You know, you were judged for everything you did back then.
And that judgment was swift and fierce. Radio stations stopped playing Lewis’s music. His label, Sun Records, stopped promoting him and offers to perform evaporated. It was a lot for a young girl to take on, Williams said, adding that the misconception that plagued her still holds true to this day.
“I was called the child bride, but I was the adult and Jerry was the child,” Williams said. “When I think about it, how can you defend yourself when you’re 13? I mean there’s no excuse good enough for it to be OK.
Williams said she nonetheless took on all of the responsibilities that came with her new role. “And I didn’t miss anything. I took care of everything. »
She bought the couple’s house when Lewis was on the road, as well as the car Lewis wanted. He told her to find a red Cadillac convertible, Williams recalls, and she did.
“I mean, I didn’t even have a driver’s license,” she said. “I did all the work and made all the decisions and did all the work and took care of the business and that kind of stuff.”
Williams even handled the finances, she said.
“I once went to the bank with a big bag of money to deposit… and the cashier said, ‘Myra, there’s a policeman sitting outside in his car and he’s been following you. so far. So when you’re ready to go, I’ll take you home,” she said.
The Cadillac was left in the bank parking lot that day.
Williams said the drugs caused irreparable damage to her marriage. Before Lewis started using drugs, she says, he was silly, playful and kind. The couple had pillow fights, cracking jokes and pulling goofy pranks, like holding on to the doorknob on the other side of the door to keep each other out. When drugs became a permanent fixture, she said, Lewis changed.
“His personality just got mean. And mean. He was like a completely different man. Just bad, you know? she says.
Williams and Lewis divorced in 1970, with Williams suing for adultery and abuse. But they stayed in touch over the years because of the bond they shared through their daughter, Phoebe Allen Lewis. The couple’s son, Steve Allen Lewis, drowned at the age of 3.
Williams married briefly after that – an 18-month romance she described as “an absolute, stupid fiasco”. She has been married to her current husband, Richard Williams, for 39 years. The couple own a real estate company in Atlanta, but have both retired from day-to-day business.
“We’re just hanging out, you know. We have nothing to do,” she said, adding that their office manager takes care of almost everything and they stop by the office from time to time to chat. “We just live a very simple life of sleeping late and watching ‘I Love Lucy’.”
Williams did her best to hold back tears as she spoke about Lewis’ death, which came weeks after the death of her father, JW Brown, a musician in his own right and Lewis’ first cousin. It was Brown who went to Natchez, Mississippi, where Lewis was living as an unknown musician and brought him to Memphis, Tennessee, to record with Sam Phillips at Sun Records, Williams said. He also invited Lewis to live in his house with his family, which is how Lewis and Williams fell in love.
When Brown learned the young couple had eloped, “he got his gun,” Williams said. “It was not a happy time. Dad felt very betrayed by this. I was his 13-year-old granddaughter.
Brown went after Lewis, but Lewis was gone.
“As soon as dad left the house, my mom called Sam Phillips and said, ‘Oh my God, you’re not going to believe what happened, Sam,'” Williams said. “Mom said, ‘Jerry and Myra got married. And Jay [J.W.] has his gun. He’s on his way to Sun Records. You better get Jerry out of there.
Phillips “chased Jerry” and told him to get on a plane. He said, “I don’t care where you go, just go,” Williams said.
Lewis was out for three or four days, during which Phillips sat Brown down and did his best to calm him down, Williams said.
“Sam Phillips was a real talker, let’s put it that way. He might convince you that whatever you were seeing wasn’t there,” Williams said.
Brown came to terms with the marriage after that, Williams said.
“There was just no choice. I mean, killing Jerry was not an option. It was her first thought, but it wasn’t an option,” she said.
When Lewis returned, Brown shook his hand and said, “You better be nice to my girl.”
Williams stopped talking to Lewis after he married his former sister-in-law, Judith Brown, in 2012. It was a deep wound, Williams said. Judith was a friend and part of the family. (Brown was the ex-wife of Williams’ younger brother.)
Williams can’t remember the last time she spoke with Lewis, but said she tried to contact him about two years ago. She had asked Phoebe if it would be OK if she called Lewis, and when she did, “I didn’t know what I was going to tell him or tell him, and I made the call and he came on the phone, and I couldn’t speak. I hung up the phone.”
If Williams could give advice to herself, 13, she said she had no idea what it might be.
“I wouldn’t go back and change it if I could,” she said. Then she stopped and thought for a second and laughed. “I could modify it a bit. I would modify it a lot. I would come out of hell. I would be smarter.
“But how smart can you be when you’re 14?” she asked. “You are a stupid kid at this age. You are just not ready for it. You’re not ready for prime time.