Jerry Lee Lewis Married His 13-Year-Old Cousin

The Myra Brown scandal dealt a death blow to his rock career

Jerry Lee Lewis with wife Myra Brown, age 13
BIPS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jerry Lee Lewis had already gone through two marriages by 1957; he'd married Jane Mitcham, his second wife, 23 days before his divorce from his first wife, Dorothy Barton, was final.

On December 12, 1957, Jerry married his third cousin, Myra Gale Brown. A lot of ink has been spilled about his close blood relationship with Myra, and the fact that she was only 13 and still believed in Santa Claus when the pair were married. For a man from his time and place, however, marrying at 13 and marrying one's third cousin (twice removed) were both fairly commonplace, although Lewis further complicated matters by again marrying before the divorce from his second wife was final.

Urban Markets

Lewis didn't seem to realize that this was offensive to most urban markets (and to other countries). Sun Records' Jud Phillips (brother of producer Sam) had warned him against taking Myra with him to England on his first European tour. Jerry Lee, never one to change his mind, took her anyway. When they stepped off the plane on May 22, 1958, Lewis obligingly told the British press that Myra was his wife (although he gave her age as 15 and moved up the date of their actual wedding). His bride, for her part, told the gathering that 15 wasn't too young to marry back home: "You can marry at 10 if you can find a husband."

Dubbed 'A Cradle Robber'

The press in both London and Memphis soon discovered the truth about Myra's age and the date of their wedding, and the response was immediate. The British press began labeling Lewis, a "cradle robber" and a "baby snatcher," criticizing his performances (which had always been hit-or-miss, depending on the singer's mood, and calling for a boycott of his concerts. More than one paper went so far as to suggest his deportation. After several tour dates were canceled, Jerry and his new bride left the country.

Dealing With Scandal

What's More, when Lewis' plane landed in New York, he found the scandal had crossed the ocean with him, cutting short a career that, at its peak, had seemed the only one capable of rivaling Elvis Presley's. (The situation was not helped by the fact that his latest single was called "High School Confidential.")

The American press proved just as harsh as their English counterparts, and Jerry Lee's fee for personal appearances soon dropped from $10,000 a night to $250. He tried to apologize, remarrying Myra in a ceremony that Lewis thought would validate the relationship and even going so far as to have an open letter printed in Billboard, but to no avail. To Jerry Lee, the uproar was hard to understand: "I plumb married the girl, didn't I?" Jerry was quoted as saying to one reporter. (Indeed, Lewis had moved in with Myra's parents when he married her.) About to depart for the Army, Elvis himself — who would soon fall in love with a 14-year-old girl — told reporters that if they were in love with each other, it was all right with him.

Reemerging as a Country Performer

Jerry Lee Lewis eventually got his career back in the late 1960s as a country performer, where his personal life was not viewed with such outrage. He outlived Elvis, but his career as a rock star was forever crippled by the scandal. Lewis and Myra were divorced in 1970. In 2004, divorce proceedings began against his sixth wife, Kerrie McCarver, whom he married in 1984. He tied the knot with his seventh wife, Judith Brown, on March 9, 2012.

Myra is still alive today. The couple had two of Lewis' six children: son Steve Allen Lewis (named after former late-night TV host Steve Allen), who tragically drowned when he was only 3 years old, and a daughter, Phoebe, who now manages the singer's career and lives at his ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi.