At the age of 13, Myra Gale Brown wedded 22-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis in Hernando, Mississippi — a marriage that would effectively destroy Lewis' career.
In 1957, 22-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis married Myra Gale Brown.
Lewis had been married twice before. His second marriage in September 1953 had caused quite a stir when people realized it had taken place 23 days before his first divorce was final.
That stir was nothing compared to the one his third marriage would cause, however. Though he had gotten married again before his divorce was final, it also came out that his new wife was also his third cousin — a 13-year-old named Myra Gale Brown.
Myra Gale Brown was the daughter of J.W. Brown, Lewis’ cousin and the bass player in his band. At the time, she hadn’t realized that there was anything wrong with her relationship with Lewis. Elvis Presley, the biggest rock star in the world, was dating a 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, who would later become his wife. Infatuation with a child simply seemed to come with rock and roll territory.
And, Myra said later, she herself felt ready for marriage.
“My generation was taught to hide under our desk when the bomb came, so you always had in the back of your mind that any minute, any day, life could come to an end,” Brown recalled in an interview. “What I wanted was a baby in my arms, a home, a husband, a kitchen to cook in, a yard to raise roses. My little brother was born because I begged my parents for a baby at ten years old.”
After the two were married on December 12, 1957, Lewis planned to take Brown along on a tour of England. Elvis had been drafted into the military, and Lewis was poised to take his place as rock’s biggest name. The England tour was supposed to establish a British fan base that would, hopefully, lead to a worldwide audience.
However, upon landing in the country with his child-bride, it became clear that the Brits were not on board with Jerry Lee Lewis. His managers had warned him about the British press and their delight in tearing down American superstars, but Lewis hadn’t listened.
“If Myra doesn’t go,” he told them, “I’m not going.”
And so, the story was cooked up. Lewis had told everyone that Brown was his wife but failed to mention her actual age, instead, telling them she was 15. In America, he told them, it was quite all right to marry at age 15, even at 10, provided you could find a husband.
Myra Gale Brown, however, hadn’t been told of the story and failed to follow along with the fib.
“I could so easily have said, ‘I’m J.W. Brown’s daughter,'” she said, looking back on the day it was revealed she was 13 and Jerry Lee Lewis’ spouse. “Because that was the truth! If anybody had told me anything, I could have prevented this thing. But they didn’t, and I didn’t, and the rest is history, I guess.”
Indeed, it was. After just a few shows in England, the tour was canceled. The British public, fueled by the tabloids branding Lewis as a “cradle robber” and a “baby snatcher,” practically drove him out of the country, vehemently abhorring his relationship.
Unfortunately, returning stateside did nothing to stop the flood of vitriol that was spewing about Lewis and Brown. Not only were they criticizing her age, they were also pointing out the fact that Jerry Lee Lewis had once again married before his divorce was finalized. Additionally, his latest single was called “High School Confidential,” which, though unrelated to his relationship, did not help his case.
Before he knew it, his ticket prices had dropped astronomically, from $10,000 a night to a mere $250. Despite re-marrying Brown, this time in a legal ceremony during which he was not already married, and moving in with her parents afterward, the public remained firmly anti-Lewis.
Though his rock career was forever marred by his marriage to Myra Gale Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis eventually found success in country music.
Before Jerry Lee Lewis and Myra Gale Brown divorced in 1970, the couple had two children, one of whom died as a child and the other who manages his career today. Though they were no longer together, they remained amicable throughout the rest of Lewis’ marriages and still keep up with each other.
Myra Lewis Williams has no hard feelings over the relationship and still blames the press for turning it into something wicked. In the end, she says, Jerry Lee Lewis’ downfall was a bigger issue than her age. Despite Elvis’ success, Brown felt that the world just wasn’t ready for rock and roll.
“They were looking for a place to stick the knife into rock & roll,” she said. “And Jerry gave it to them—well, I did, I opened my mouth. That’s exactly what it was.”