Jerry Lee Lewis: “A Three-Ring Circus Without Any Help”

by Paula Bosse

“Jerry Lee Lewis,” a name that packs a punch. These three photos of the wild man of rock ‘n’ roll by Raeanne Rubenstein are fantastic. Here’s what she wrote about the experience of photographing The Killer:

He’s a three-ring circus without any help. When he’s in the vicinity, things begin to crackle; when he’s present, things pop. One of the most contradictory people I’ve ever met, he entertains ideas of Godliness, Kindness, Peacefulness and Respect concomitant with passions of the most raucous, violent, irrational, unpredictable nature. Jerry Lee insisted I hang around for three days, without sleeping, flying around on his plane to gigs, drinking, partying, before he’d let me take a picture. He wanted me to know who I was photographing … first. It was torture. I was a wreck. But it was fascinating. And it was worth it.

The caption for this group of photos, from the great book Honky-Tonk Heroes:

Jerry Lee Lewis. Memphis, Tennessee. He’s called “the Killer” primarily because that’s what he calls everybody else. He can drink more, roar louder, party longer, and sleep less than just about anybody, anywhere.

After three days without sleep, two days of drinking, and an all-night show in Vinton, Louisiana, Jerry Lee gets in the mood to cavort before the camera at 6 A.M. beside his private jet, which had just landed at the Memphis airport. From here, he drove off to his office to party. “I’m the greatest!” he says.

I pity that poor pilot, but wired and partying, beer in hand, on a Memphis runway at 6 A.M. … I wouldn’t want Jerry Lee Lewis any other way.

jerry-lee-lewis_raeanne-rubenstein_honky-tonk-heroes-1

jerry-lee-lewis_raeanne-rubenstein_honky-tonk-heroes-2

jerry-lee-lewis_raeanne-rubenstein_honky-tonk-heroes-3

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Sources & Notes

Photos and quotes from the book Honky-Tonk Heroes: A Photo Album of Country Music — photographs by Raeanne Rubenstein, text by Peter McCabe (New York: Harper & Row, 1975).

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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