When Mira Williams looks back on her life – her marriage to her second cousin, singer Jerry Lee Lewis, in 1957 when she was just 13, their good and bad times together, the two children they had, and the lasting damage their relationship inflicted on Lewis’ career And her legacy – she sometimes wonders if it was all a dream.
But it happened,” the 78-year-old writer and former real estate agent told The Times by phone from her Atlanta home, the day after Lewis’ death. “I did. It all happened to me.”
She said the whole “huge” thing happened in her teenage years, and she cataloged the milestones: She got married at 13; a fourteen-year-old mother; She lost her firstborn child when she was seventeen years old; She gave birth to her second child at the age of nineteen.
“Yes, it was turbulent as a teenager being a wife and a mother,” Williams said. “But going through it, I found my strength. And there is almost nothing that can dislodge me from my place at this point.”
In the hours after Lewis died at the age of 87, the internet was flooded with obituaries of the rock legend, each containing a transitional paragraph suggesting that Lewis’ star fell as fast as it rose when his marriage to Williams became public during a tour of Britain a year later. His debut album, featuring the hit single “Great Balls of Fire”, grabbed the number two spot on the pop charts.
“I was a bad thing in his life,” Williams said, describing how people saw her. “Because of our marriage his career hit the curb. You know, you were judged for everything you did back then.”
And that judgment was swift and severe. Radio stations stopped playing Lewis’ music. His brand, Sun Records, stopped promoting him, and performances evaporated. It was too much for the young girl, Williams said, adding that the misconception that plagued her remains true to this day.
“The baby was called the bride, but I was an adult and Jerry was the baby,” Williams said. “When I look back, how do you stand up for yourself when you are 13? I mean there is not enough excuse for that to be good.”
Williams said she nonetheless took on all the responsibilities that came with her new role. “And I didn’t miss anything. I took care of everything.”
She bought the couple’s house when Louis was on the road, as well as the car that Louis wanted. He told her to find a red Cadillac convertible, Williams remembered, and she did.
“I mean, I didn’t even have a driver’s license,” she said. “I’ve done all the work and made all the decisions and done all of the running and taking care of the business and that kind of thing.”
She said Williams even managed the finances.
“One time I went to the bank with a big bag of money to deposit… and the teller said to me, ‘Mira, there’s a policeman sitting there outside in his car and he followed you here.'” So when you get ready to leave, I’ll drive you home.
The Cadillac stayed in the bank’s parking lot that day.
Williams said drugs caused irreparable damage to her marriage. She said that before Lewis started taking drugs, he was silly, cute, and cute. The couple would fight over the pillow, cracking jokes and pulling pranks, like holding on to the doorknob from the other side of the door to keep each other from getting in. When drugs became a constant, she said, Lewis changed.
“His personality became mean. And bad. He was like a completely different man. Just bad, you know?” she said.
Williams and Lewis divorced in 1970, and Williams filed a lawsuit on the grounds of adultery and abuse. But they have kept in touch over the years due to the bond they shared through their daughter, Phoebe Allen Lewis. The couple’s son, Steve Allen Lewis, drowned at the age of three.
Williams married shortly thereafter – an 18-month romance she described as a “dumb and complete fiasco”. She has been married to her current husband Richard Williams for 39 years. The couple owns a real estate company in Atlanta but has retired from the day job.
“We just hang out, you know. We don’t have to do anything,” she said, adding that their office manager takes care of just about everything and they stop by the office every now and then to chat. “We live the real simple life of sleeping in late and watching I Love Lucy. “
Williams did her best to hold back her tears when she spoke of Louis’ death, which occurred just weeks after the death of her father, JW Brown, a musician in his own right and Louis’s first cousin. It was Brown, said Williams, who went to Natchez, Miss., where Louis was living as an unknown musician, and brought him to Memphis, Tennessee, to record with Sam Phillips on Sun Records. He also invited Lewis to live in his house with his family, and so Lewis and Williams fell in love.
When Brown heard that the couple had escaped, he “got his gun,” Williams said. “It wasn’t a happy moment. My dad felt betrayed by it. I was his 13-year-old daughter.”
Brown went after Lewis, but Lewis went.
“The minute my dad left the house, my mom called Sam Phillips and said, ‘Oh my God, you won’t believe what happened, Sam,’” Williams said. “My mom said, ‘Jerry and Mira got married.’ And Jay [J.W.] He has his gun. He’s on his way to Sun Records. You better get Jerry out of there.”
Phillips “ran Jerry” and told him to get on a plane. “I don’t care where you go, just go,” Williams said.
Williams said Lewis was gone for three or four days, during which time Phillips sat down with Brown and did his best to comfort him.
“Sam Phillips was a real talker, let’s put it this way. He could have convinced you that whatever you see wasn’t there,” Williams said.
Williams said that Brown came to accept the marriage after that.
“There was no choice. I mean, killing Jerry wasn’t an option. It was his first thought, but it wasn’t an option.”
When Lewis returned, Brown shook hands with him and said, “You’d better be kind to my girl.”
Williams stopped talking to Lewis after he married her ex-sister-in-law, Judith Brown, in 2012. Williams said the hurt was deep. Judith was a friend and part of the family. (Brown was the ex-wife of Williams’ younger brother.)
Williams doesn’t remember the last time she spoke to Lewis, but said she tried calling him about two years ago. I asked Phoebe if it would be OK if Louis called, and when she did, “I didn’t know what to say to him or tell him, and I made the call and he came on the phone, and I can’t talk. I hung up.”
If Williams could offer advice to her 13-year-old self, she would have said she had no idea what it might be like.
“I wouldn’t go back and change it if I could,” she said. Then she stopped and thought for a second and started laughing. “I can tweak it a little. I will tweak it a lot. I will tweak the hell out of it. I will be smarter.”
“But how smart are you when you are 14 years old?” She asked. “You stupid kid that age. You just aren’t ready for it. You aren’t ready for prime time.”
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