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Why did Jerry Lee marry his thirteen-year-old cousin?

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Question: Why did Jerry Lee marry his thirteen-year-old cousin?
Answer: Jerry Lee Lewis had already gone through two marriages by 1957; he'd married Jane Mitcham, his second, 23 days before his divorce from his first wife, Dorothy Barton, was final. On December 12, 1957, Jerry married his third cousin, Myra Gale Brown. A lot of ink has been spilled about his close blood relationship with Myra, and the fact that she was only thirteen and still believed in Santa Claus when the pair were married. For a man from his time and place, however, marrying at thirteen and marrying one's third cousin (twice removed) were both fairly commonplace occurrances, although Lewis further complicated matters by again marrying before the divorce from his second wife was final.

Lewis didn't seem to realize that this was offensive to most urban markets (and to other countries): in fact, Sun Records' Jud Phillips (brother of producer Sam) had warned him against taking Myra with him to England on his first European tour. Jerry Lee, never one to change his mind, took her anyway. When they stepped off the plane on May 22, 1958, Lewis obligingly told the british press that Myra was his wife (although he gave her age as 15 and moved up the date of their actual wedding). His bride, for her part, told the gathering that fifteen wasn't too young to marry back home: "You can marry at 10 if you can find a husband."

The press in both London and Memphis, TN, soon discovered the truth about Myra's age and the date of their wedding, and the response was immediate: The British press began labeling Lewis a "cradle robber" and a "baby snatcher," criticizing his performances (which have always been hit-or-miss, depending on the singer's mood), and calling for a boycott of his concerts. More than one paper went so far as to suggest his deportment; after several tour dates were canceled, Jerry and his new bride left the country.

Worse, when Lewis' plane landed in New York, he found the scandal had crossed the ocean with him, cutting short a career that, at its peak, had seemed the only one capable of rivaling Elvis Presley's. (The situation was not helped by the fact that his latest single was called "High School Confidential.") The American press proved just as harsh as their English counterparts, and Jerry Lee's fee for personal appearances soon dropped from $10,000 a night to $250. He tried to apologize, remarrying Myra in a ceremony that Lewis thought would validate the relationship and even going so far as to have an open letter printed in Billboard, but to no avail. To Jerry Lee, the uproar was hard to understand: "I plumb married the girl, didn't I?" Jerry was quoted as saying to one reporter. (Indeed, Lewis had moved in with Myra's parents when he married her.) About to depart for the Army, Elvis himself -- who would soon fall in love with a fourteen year old girl -- told reporters that if they were in love with each other, it was all right with him.

Jerry Lee Lewis eventually got his career back in the late Sixties as a country performer, where his personal life was not viewed with such outrage, and he eventually outlived Elvis, but his career as a rock star was forever crippled by the scandal. Lewis and Myra were divorced in 1970; in 2004, the divorce proceedings began against his sixth wife, Kerrie McCarver, whom he married in 1984. Myra is still alive today. The couple had two children: son Steve Allen Lewis (named after the host), who tragically drowned at three, and daughter Phoebe, who now manages the singer and lives at his ranch in Nesbit, MS.

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