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Jerry Lee Lewis’ former teen bride looks back at controversial marriage: 'Things went to hell quickly'
January 04 2024, 08:00

Myra Williams, the former child bride of Jerry Lee Lewis, is looking back at their tumultuous union.

The 79-year-old recently came forward in an episode of Investigation Discovery’s "Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?" 

The series explores the stories of men and women who learn shocking secrets about their spouses. The author’s episode is now available for streaming on Max.

Lewis, a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer known for his hit songs "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On," died in October 2022 at age 87. The rebellious singer, songwriter and pianist nicknamed "The Killer" was the last survivor of a generation of groundbreaking performers that included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.


Before Williams found herself at the center of controversy, her upbringing was a simple one. In 1949, 5-year-old Williams' family moved from Louisiana to Memphis. Her father, J.W. Brown, got a job as a lineman.

Following a work accident, Williams’ father earned a hefty settlement. According to Williams, it was the patriarch who encouraged his cousin Lewis, an unknown musician, to join him in Memphis. J.W. was a bass player and eager to record at Sun Records, which would be known as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.

Lewis was 21 when he was invited by his cousin to live in his home with his family. Williams had just turned 13. In the episode, Williams said that there was "nothing special" to Lewis. He had a short haircut that made his ears stick out. But he quickly got the curious child’s attention once he began playing the piano.

"We were all mesmerized," Williams said in the episode. "You knew something great was coming out of this. My opinion changed drastically of him. His haircut didn’t matter anymore."

According to Williams, Lewis began showing up at her school.

"He knew what time school would let out, and he would be there," she said. "He would go, ‘Hey, you wanna go get some ice cream?’ He always knew I wanted to get ice cream."


Williams believed a friendship was blossoming. But she claimed things quickly took a turn.

"I thought he was being nice to me," she said. "I was idolizing Jerry and looking up to him. … What I didn’t know was that he was falling in love with me. … Jerry would kiss me. At first, I didn’t know what to think about that. I mean, it was nice, but I was confused."

Williams’ parents had no idea Lewis was wooing their daughter.

"Jerry came back home one day and said, ‘Come outside, I want to show you something,’" said Williams. "He goes and pulls this paper out. I looked at it, and it said, ‘Marriage License.' … I said, ‘You mean we’re married?’ And he said, ‘No, no, no. We’re not married. We’re gonna get married.’"

According to the episode, Lewis arrived on a separate day with a promise of going to the movies. However, they kept driving. That day, Lewis and Williams eloped.

"I think I was in a coma," said Williams. "I had the red dress that I wore to school that day, and we walked into this little chapel. I don’t remember getting married, but I know it happened. And then, these two little old ladies started throwing rice at us. … And I’m still like a deer caught in headlights. … We were probably gone for less than an hour.

"The next morning, I got up and pulled my marriage license out, and I left it on the nightstand. My mother’s maid found it. She handed my daddy the marriage license. Of course, he took one look at it and my daddy went and got his gun. He said, ‘I’m going to kill that son of a b----.’"

According to Williams’ brother, Rusty Brown, who appeared in the series, their father headed to Sun Records, where Lewis was recording music. Their horrified mother called producer Sam Phillips, warning him that her husband was racing over with a gun. Phillips urged Lewis to get in his car and get out of Memphis.

Lewis fled before J.W. barreled in.

"He yells, ‘Where is that son of a b----?’" said Williams. "Sam sat daddy down and said, ‘We can’t interfere with a life decision that’s been made.' Daddy calms down, he goes back home and he tells mom, ‘We really don’t have any choices because it’s done. We’re gonna have to hope for the best and learn to live with it.’"

According to the episode, it was against the law for married women in Tennessee to go to school. At 13, Williams packed her clothes in a doll case. Lewis and Williams purchased the first home they saw that had a "for sale" sign. 

Williams said she had to quickly learn how to cook and vacuum. As for Lewis, he would perform nightly and come home with shopping bags filled with money.

"I had to become the adult," said Williams. "Jerry did two things — he played music, and he loved me."

When Presley was drafted into the U.S. Army, Lewis was poised to be the next king of rock ‘n’ roll. Within the first few months of 1958, he skyrocketed to fame. And unlike Presley, Lewis was about to embark on a major European tour that would have cemented his place as king.


Phillips warned Lewis not to bring Williams along. But his words fell on deaf ears. Williams, along with her brother and mother, joined Lewis and his band on tour.

In May 1958, the group arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport. Paul Tanfield, a reporter for the U.K.’s DailyMail, noticed the young girl within the entourage, reported.

"The guy says, ‘How old are you?’" said Williams. "I said, ‘I’m 15.’ I thought I could lie a little bit. His face lit up like a Christmas tree. And he took off. I had no idea I was talking to a reporter. And I’m clueless that there could be a problem. I wish that somebody had said, ‘Myra, you’re a bomb.’"

Tanfield not only discovered that Lewis’ young wife was 13 and his cousin, but that he was still married to his second wife. The story immediately went to press, and the backlash was instant. Lewis performed at half-empty theaters as people boycotted his shows. Those who attended his concerts heckled him for hours, and paparazzi hounded Williams and her family. Scotland Yard warned the band that it couldn’t guarantee safety.

Everyone fled back to America hoping the story would blow over. Lewis attempted to salvage his reputation by divorcing his second wife and remarrying Williams. But the damage was done.

"That one event turned our lives upside down and changed the direction of everything," Williams said, fighting back tears. "Nobody wanted to be a part of this. … I felt guilty because of it. I didn’t make it happen, but I didn’t stop it from happening. And I could have … I was the one who let the cat out of the bag."


The star's career was destroyed, but his marriage wasn’t. In 1959, they welcomed a son named Stevie, named after Steve Allen, the entertainer who gave Lewis his first TV break. Williams was 14.

Williams immersed herself in motherhood. But in 1962, tragedy struck. Stevie, 3, fell into the family swimming pool and drowned. According to the episode, Williams only remembered collapsing on her son’s grave and cradling his tombstone as Lewis attempted to pick her up.

It was the birth of their daughter Phoebe in 1963 that saved her.

"She just unbroke my heart," said Williams. "She made me proud and happy to have a child in my arms again. … It gave me back something I had lost."

Lewis continued to struggle as an artist, and he eventually left Sun Records. Country music embraced him, giving him a second chance at fame.

But that’s when "things went to hell quickly," said Williams, alleging that her husband was like "Jekyll and Hyde." The episode alleged Lewis began taking amphetamines while on the road. Booze and sleepless nights also contributed to his temper, the episode claimed.


In 1970, Williams got an anonymous phone call. She learned that Lewis was seeing other women. It was the final straw for her, and she moved out with Phoebe while Lewis was out of town. Lewis called Williams, begging his wife to come back home. When she returned to their house to pick up a few belongings, Williams alleged that she saw her husband in bed with another woman.

Williams divorced Lewis in the 1970s. She alleged that Lewis’ physical and mental cruelty nearly drove her to suicide. She then relocated to Atlanta to start anew. Lewis had mismanaged her finances, which meant going back to school and finding work quickly.

"I was married at 13 and divorced at 26," said Williams. "Half of my life was spent with Jerry."

Williams not only went on to become a successful real estate agent, but she also found love. In 1984, she married her current husband, Richard Williams.

"He’s a gentleman," she boasted. "He’s kind. He’ll do anything for me. He vacuums. I have somebody I can take care of, and somebody I know who is going to take care of me."

The music industry eventually forgave Lewis. He later won three Grammys and recorded with some of the industry’s greatest stars.


Lewis married seven times and was rarely far from trouble or death. His fourth wife, Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate, drowned in a swimming pool in 1982 while suing for divorce. His fifth wife, Shawn Stephens, 23 years his junior, died of an apparent drug overdose in 1983. Within a year, Lewis had married Kerrie McCarver, then 21. She filed for divorce in 1986, accusing him of physical abuse and infidelity. He countersued, but both petitions were eventually dropped. They finally divorced in 2005 after several years of separation.

In 2012, he married Judith Brown, Williams’ former sister-in-law. The union lasted until his death.

"There’s been so many blessings and so many good things," Williams reflected. "I’m happy with myself right now. … If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably do it all over again."