A life remembered: Jerry Lee Lewis Laid to rest
FERRIDAY, La. (WMC) - Lewis, who passed away October 28 at the age of 87, was back in his hometown of Ferriday, Louisiana on Saturday to be laid to rest.
The day started with rain. Some may see it as an inconvenience for a funeral, but Jerry Lee Lewis’ widow Judith said that her husband “loved the rain.”
There was talk of having his burial elsewhere, but the talk amongst family and close friends was it was that important for the music icon to be buried where it all started.
“He was loyal to his soil,” said Jim Brown, Lewis’ longtime attorney. “That’s very meaningful to us folks down this way, to think that in his heart, after all these years, how famous he was, wherever he traveled, that he would come back home.”
Brown was among the hundreds in the long line outside Young’s Funeral Home in Ferriday, a line that stretched across the front lawn and through the parking lot.
Brown recalled to us stories of when he represented Lewis for nearly 40 years.
“He was my first client,” he said. “He’d call me once a year and would say ‘I’ve got to get cousin so-and-so out of jail,’ or ‘Someone shot a deer out of season. Will you help me?’. I represented him a long time. I never got paid a fee, but I always got great tickets for all his concerts.”
The line featured fans from across the region.
“I personally wanted to pay my respects,” said Jaxton Lard of Loretto, TN. “I was raised with his music, and he was always the standard to achieve. He’s been a huge influence on me.”
“I don’t know that they make musicians like those guys,” David Day of McComb, MS said, speaking about Lewis and other members of the Million Dollar Quartet. “(Lewis) was special, and when it comes to playing piano... I mean, he was just unbelievable with what he could do.”
“This is the guy that’s the biggest thing to come out of Ferriday,” said Xavier Ellis, a Ferriday native who lives in another part of Louisiana. “I felt I needed to pay my respects to him. He just showed if you have a dream that you could make it happen.”
There were also fans from across the world.
Two people from Belgium, Bart and Vanessa, were in the U.S. for a planned trip to Texas, both huge Jerry Lee Lewis fans.
“When we heard that Jerry Lee (Lewis) passed away, we said ‘OK. We’ll change our plans,’” Bart said. “We came to Louisiana for this moment.”
“In Europe, it’s still all there is,” Vanessa added, talking about Lewis’ music. “We have rockabilly events, and we play the music more over there than I’ve heart it here. For us, it’s kind of the main source of our music.”
Family friends were also in the mix of the line.
Johnny Rock and Julieann Hunt spoke to us about their experiences with Lewis, as well as his sister Linda Gail Lewis.
“I’m here for my really sweet friend who has a really broken heart,” Hunt said, speaking about Linda.
“Throughout his life, the ups and the downs, his last album was a Christian album that he did with his cousin Jimmy Swaggart, and he was ready to go,” Rock said. “He was really ready to go.”
Swaggart, the famous televangelist and Lewis’ cousin, gave the eulogy inside the funeral home.
It was standing room only in the overflow rooms, all huddled around a single TV listening to Swaggart tell stories of Lewis throughout his life.
“I’ll miss him. I’ll miss him very much,” we heart Swaggart say toward the end and getting emotional while saying it.
“They’re a very close family, very very loving family,“ Hunt said. “It’s very heartbreaking for them.”
The burial was private for the Lewis family, so the hundreds who showed went straight to the Arcade Theatre in Downtown Ferriday, right next to the Delta Music Museum & Hall of Fame, which made Lewis its first inductee in 2002.
This is where Lewis’ celebration of life was held.
Inside was a timeline of photographs, detailing Lewis’ life through his career.
Several close friends and connections spoke before the crowd inside about personal experiences with Lewis and how he inspired them.
After the celebration concluded, we spoke with Lewis’ daughter, Lori Lancaster.
“I just wish I had more time,” she said.
Lancaster said there were years she didn’t see her father, but it was during the final years of his life when the two repaired their connection.
“When he had a stroke, I was able to stay with him, part of the day, for months during rehabilitation. I got to ask him all the questions that I wanted to ask him and spend time with him,” Lancaster said, her face lighting up as the words came out. “He was just Jerry Lee my dad. He wasn’t Jerry Lee the entertainer. We had a great relationship.”
From spending Father’s Day at the Lewis ranch in Nesbit to introducing Lewis to her children, Lancaster said she’s happy with how things were at the end, but like everyone who loses a parent, she wishes the end didn’t have to come this soon.
“I think because he was known as ‘the last man standing’ for that era of music, I didn’t think we’d be here for another 10 years,” said Lancaster. “I thought he would be here forever.”
For Lancaster and the family, the close friends, and the fans, all acknowledged that the man is gone but that his legacy will live on through his music.
“I own a radio station,” Rock said. “We play Jerry Lee Lewis all the time. He’s The Killer.”
“He completely dominated the stage,” Brown said. “His life was not just all peaches and cream. His life was a mess in some instances. When all is said and done, he’ll go down in history as the first huge rock n’ roller and one of the most meaningful and significant entertainers of all-time.”
“I think his fans, as you saw here today, there’s so many young ones that appreciate his music,” said Lancaster. “I look forward to more and more young people getting into (Lewis’ music) and hopefully keeping his music alive.”
From Downtown Ferriday to Beale Street in Memphis and across the world, Jerry Lee Lewis is a name that will be remembered for several more generations, at least.
Rest in peace, Killer.
We’ll be listening to you.
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