Lewis attended a fundamentalist Bible school in Texas. He was eventually expelled, but has been quoted as calling Rock & Roll the Devil's music.
He made his first public appearance at 14, sitting in with a local Country & Western band.
Lewis' Rock direction was suggested to him when he auditioned for Sun Records in 1956. The company had just lost Elvis Presley to RCA and needed a replacement.
Lewis' got his nickname "The Killer" when he was in high school.
He developed a rowdy reputation, famous for kicking out his piano bench and playing the keys with his feet. He learned early on that this was a sure way to stir up a crowd.
In December 1957, Lewis made a big career mistake. He married 13-year-old Myra Gale Brown, who was the daughter of his cousin, J.W. Brown (also his bass player). She was his third wife. The marriage survived for 14 years, but Lewis' career faded as he was denounced by religious leaders across the US. He has been married 6 times.
In 1968, Lewis was in a Rock musical called Catch My Soul (a version of Shakespeare's Othello). This was made into a movie without him.
His cousin is TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. His sister, Linda Gail Lewis, also released solo recordings in the late '60s and early '70s.
He was among the first 10 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Dennis Quaid starred as Lewis in the biographical film, Great Balls of Fire!. Lewis' voice was used, but his piano playing was dumped in favor of Quaid's.
In 1986, he checked into The Betty Ford Clinic because he was addicted to painkillers. Lewis almost died in 1981 as a result of ulcers caused by alcohol, amphetamines and barbiturates.
On package tours, Lewis insisted upon being the last performer - Always. When Chuck Berry wanted to go on last at their only show together because he was, as he said, the bigger star at the time, this caused a problem. After some serious contention, with Jerry insisting HE was the bigger star, and besides that (being as confirmed a racist as the South could produce at the time) he certainly wasn't going to give up top billing to a black man, the show's producers forced Jerry Lee to accept the arrangement or forfeit his share of the proceeds. During the last song, "Great Balls Of Fire," Jerry Lee poured lighter fluid on the top cover of the piano and after he finished walked offstage and as he passed by Chuck, who was waiting in the wings, said, "Top that, n---er!" Much of this incident was sanitized for the movie, and Quaid as Lewis said "Top that, Star!"
His 8-year-old brother Elmo was killed by a drunken driver when Jerry Lee was 3.
In 1984, Lewis' fifth wife died of a drug overdose when she apparently mistook his methadone for sleeping pills.
He personified Rockabilly, which is a fusion of Rock and Hillbilly music, and an early sub-genre of Rock.
In 1973, his son Jerry Lee Jr. was killed in a car accident in Mississippi. His only other son, Steven Allen, died in a 1962 drowning.