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'A one of a kind entertainer': Sun Studio, others react to death of Jerry Lee Lewis

Tributes to the “Great Balls of Fire” rocker poured out on social media from rockers and country stars alike, as well as former President Donald Trump.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tributes are pouring in to rock 'n' roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis after he died Friday. He was 87 years old.

His publicist said Judith, Lewis' seventh wife, was by his side when he died at his home in Southaven, Mississippi, south of Memphis. “He told her, in his final days, that he welcomed the hereafter, and that he was not afraid,” according to a news release.

The news came two days after the publication of an erroneous TMZ report of his death, later retracted.

Lewis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year.

“Jerry Lee Lewis’s indelible mark as a rock & roller in no way obscures his impact as one of the greatest country singers of all time," Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame, said. "He was the ultimate stylist—as his friend Kris Kristofferson put it, ‘a table-thumpin’ smash.’"

Kristofferson accepted the honor in his stead, then drove to the Mid-South to see Lewis and present the award to the icon, according to Lewis’ official Facebook page.

“The Memphis sound is rooted in blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll, and today our music community lost an icon with the passing of Jerry Lee Lewis," Kevin Kane, president & CEO of Memphis Tourism, said. "A Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, he was also a member of the Sun Studio Million Dollar Quartet that helped solidify the famed Memphis recording studio as a global music landmark. The Lewis family remains in the collective thoughts of the tourism and hospitality community. Jerry Lee’s legacy will live on through his music that continues to influence new generations of artists and musicians.”

Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was its last inaugural inductee.

"The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has lost its last inaugural inductee. Jerry Lee Lewis sang and played the piano with wild abandon, setting the world on fire with his electrifying performances and rebellious persona," the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said in a statement. "His hits “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire” served as a foundation of the sound and spirit of youth culture. Jerry Lee was a genuine pioneer, and his music and rock and roll swagger lives on forever."

Former U.S. President Donald Trump called Lewis “a real bundle of talent, energy and everything else necessary to be a star.”

“Jerry Lee Lewis was beloved by everyone, a real bundle of talent, energy, and everything else necessary to be a star," Trump said. "He just passed away. Our warmest regards to his wife, Judith, and family. He will be missed!”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland described Lewis as a "one of a kind entertainer."

"Jerry Lee Lewis was a one of a kind entertainer," Strickland said. "I so enjoy his music, especially the songs recorded at Sun Studio. No one played the piano like him. I was honored to meet him last year, and my prayers are with his family."

Lewis was a member of the Million Dollar Quartet, an impromptu jam session involving he, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash at Sun Studio in Memphis on Dec. 4, 1956. Lewis was the group's longest living member.

In a statement, Sun Studio said, "Today we are mourning the loss of a legend. Sun recording artist, Jerry Lee Lewis, has passed away at the age of 87. He gave Sun the top two biggest hits of all time; “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire”. Cheers to the last man standing!"

Today we are mourning the loss of a legend. Sun recording artist, Jerry Lee Lewis, has passed away at the age of 87. He...

Posted by Sun Studio on Friday, October 28, 2022

Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn said Lewis "made an indelible mark on both the rock and roll and country music communities."

ABC24 last interviewed Lewis in April 2013, days before opening of the Jerry Lee Lewis café and Honky Tonk on Beale Street. Lewis opened the hotspot to celebrate the rockabilly culture he helped create.

"Beale Street has a heavy heart today hearing about the passing of Jerry Lee Lewis," a statement on the street's Twitter page said. "Rest in Peace to "The Killer" Jerry Lee Lewis. The founding father of the genre Rock n' Roll, a member of Sun Studios Million Dollar Quartet, and so much more. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family."

"The world has lost another musical icon today," American rock band The Doors tweeted. "Rest in Peace Jerry Lee Lewis, a pioneer of early rock n' roll, and one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. The Doors and Jim Morrison were heavily inspired by Lewis."

Country music singer Tim McGraw shared a snippet of a recording with Lewis. 

Singer, pianist and composer Elton John thanked Lewis for his trailblazing inspiration.

"Without Jerry Lee Lewis, I wouldn't have become who I am today," John said. "He was groundbreaking and exciting, and he pulverized the piano. A brilliant singer too. Thank you for all your trailblazing inspiration and all the rock 'n' roll memories."

Actor Dennis Quaid played Lewis in 1989's “Great Balls of Fire!" and called him the greatest piano player in the world.

“Jerry Lee was a Christian, an American icon and the greatest piano player in the world," Quaid said. "People will be listening to ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ’Whole Lot of Shakin’ 500 years from now. I will miss him. God bless you Jerry Lee.”

“Sadly, One of the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll has passed. A rebel to the end. RIP, Jerry Lee Lewis,” said musician Gene Simmons on Twitter.

“God bless Jerry Lee Lewis peace and love to his family," musician Ringo Starr said on Twitter.

"Jerry Lee Lewis has passed … REST EASY KILLER you were one of a kind… #RIPJerryLee," vocal quartet The Oak Ridge Boys said on Twitter.

"RIP Jerry Lee Lewis. The Killer has gone. He could play that piano, boy. Think I gotta play me some Lewis Boogie," author Stephen King said on Twitter.

We will continue to update this article as we learn of more tributes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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