Jerry Lee Lewis
Few figures in popular culture could claim the extraordinary list of descriptive phrases that have been attributed to Jerry Lee Lewis - genius, rocker, lunatic, bigamist, survivor - but no matter which label applied, the undeniable fact remained that Jerry Lee Lewis was above all else a pioneer of rock and roll. Lewis was a member of the Sun Records stable, which at one time included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and many others who helped to craft rock and roll into an American art form. Lewis' contribution, through incendiary tracks like "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire," was to preserve and even enhance the danger, the sex and the joy of the music through his ferocious vocals and piano playing. For a brief, conservative period, no performer could terrify and enthrall an audience at the same time like Lewis. As history often demonstrated, such a volatile personality had to reach a breaking point, and Lewis's came in 1958 with the announcement that he had married his 13-year-old cousin. Decades in the wilderness followed, with occasional returns to his previous brilliance. Surprisingly, Lewis was the last of the major Sun players to survive into the 21st century, where his presence - gnarled but still ornery - served as a reminder that while the excesses of fame had their downside, the potency of great rock and roll was one of the surest tickets to immortality.