How Jerry Lee Lewis Went Broke

Jerry Lee Lewis was on top of the rock 'n' roll world in 1958. Thanks to songs such as "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Breathless," and "Great Balls of Fire," as well as a wild, unrestrained live act that endeared him to his mostly teenage admirers (and likely sent their parents into fits of panic), the then-22-year-old singer and pianist was a certified superstar. Then it was all gone, almost in an instant, thanks to a scandalous revelation that made him a pariah not only to fans, but also to disc jockeys, concert promoters, club owners, and especially the moral guardians who saw "The Killer" as proof positive that rock 'n' roll is the devil's music. Needless to say, the money soon dried up for Lewis and his (extremely) young family.

Although he was able to revitalize his career several years later as a country singer, personal problems continued to hound him as he entered middle age, including substance abuse, divorce(s), deaths in the family, accidental shootings, and even more financial woes. But just how did Jerry Lee Lewis go from rock royalty to losing practically all his money on multiple occasions? Here's a closer look, starting with a deeper dive into the aforementioned scandal that shot him down at the height of his popularity in the late '50s.

Jerry Lee Lewis' marriage scandal almost killed his career

As Jerry Lee Lewis prepared for his British tour in 1958, he seemed poised to supersede Elvis Presley as rock 'n' roll's alpha male since, as The Guardian noted, The King had a fear of flying that prevented him from touring overseas. Everything appeared in order for Lewis and his young wife, Myra Gale Brown, as they touched down at London's Heathrow Airport, but things would never be the same after reporters found out just how young The Killer's "child bride" was.

Speaking to Cuepoint in 2014, Myra revealed that her then-husband's managers had warned him repeatedly about taking her to England. But he ignored those warnings, and while speaking to reporters, Myra admitted to being Jerry Lee's wife. Lewis, for his part, claimed that she was 15, and since that's still very much underage no matter how you look at it, British tabloids were sufficiently motivated to dig more dirt on the couple. All told, they revealed that Myra was actually 13, that she was his cousin, and that Lewis had, yet again, tied the knot while still legally married to someone else.

After fan outrage led to Lewis' British tour getting canceled, he returned home to the U.S., where fans — and music industry insiders — were just as scandalized. While he was once popular enough to earn $10,000 a night, he was soon performing for a mere fraction of that, making just around $250 while playing at small clubs. And that was on good nights. As quoted by Cuepoint, country legend Kris Kristofferson once claimed there were times when Lewis "didn't [even] make $100 a night."

Jerry Lee Lewis' problems with the IRS and bankruptcy filing

It took a while, but by the late '60s, Jerry Lee Lewis was relevant in music once again, albeit as a country singer. His 1968 single, "Another Place Another Time," was the first in a string of top-10 hits on the Billboard country charts that continued well into the next decade. However, his financial problems weren't quite over, and a lot of them had something to do with the back taxes he owed to the IRS. According to the Associated Press, IRS agents seized more than 60 items in 1979, including cars, motorcycles, musical equipment, and firearms, because Lewis owed the government about $274,000 in taxes. One year later, those items were auctioned off, though they raised just over $91,000 and attracted only 150 potential bidders.

Although Lewis was found innocent of tax evasion in 1984, the IRS was back for The Killer in 1985 as agents took even more vehicles, including multiple cars, a jet ski, and a mechanical bull. In 1988, Lewis filed a petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, declaring that he owed over $3 million to close to two dozen creditors, including $2 million to the IRS. Aside from unpaid hospital bills, court fees, and state income taxes, the rock legend also failed to make lease payments on a Cadillac and a Corvette — apparently, he still had tastes for the finer things in life despite his mounting debts.

Fortunately, it appears that Lewis did very well for himself in the decades that followed, as Celebrity Net Worth estimates that he is currently worth around $10 million.