Famous Relatives of Jerry Lee Lewis

The Killer, the Cowboy and the Preacher

Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis performing at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2015. Edu Hawkins /Getty Images

From the Baldwins to the Kardashians, Hollywood's elite is full of famous families, but none quite like that of famed pianist Jerry Lee Lewis (also known as "The Killer") whose cousins Jimmy Lee Swaggart and Mickey Gilley would go on to become almost (if not more) famous than him.

Jerry Lee Lewis grew up in a very conservative, religious, tight-knit family in Ferriday, Louisiana. Indeed, two of his cousins were like brothers to him — Mickey Gilley, who would later become famous as a country superstar and the owner of Gilley's nightclub in Pasadena, Texas, and Jimmy (Lee) Swaggart, who would become famous as a televangelist (and infamous due to a sex scandal in the late Eighties).

All three learned to play together on the family's Stark piano, and Gilley himself entered into the business after Jerry Lee's success with the single "Crazy Arms."

Of the three, however, it is Swaggart, not Lewis or Gilley, whom the family has always considered the most talented. All three have sold millions of albums between them, Swaggart's being primarily religious music. Gilley is perhaps best known to pop fans for his 1980 hit cover of "Stand By Me."

Jimmy Lee Swaggart: Former Televangelist

Jimmy Lee Swaggart got his start on the farm in Ferriday with his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis, but the 1980s saw a rise of stardom of a particular breed for Swaggart: Television evangelism. Swaggart started small, though, preaching from the back of a flatbed pickup truck in 1955. By 1960, Swaggart had begun recording gospel music and by 1962 had started his own 30-minute evangelical telecast. Increasing steadily in popularity over the years, Swaggart's program began garnering national attention by the mid-1970s.

He expanded the show to a full hour in 1978 and by 1983 over 250 stations nationwide broadcast his program.

The late Eighties brought with it the scandal that would ruin Swaggart's career (at least momentarily). In 1988, a group of rival ministers recorded Swaggart entering the Travel Inn in New Orleans with a local prostitute.

In February of the same year, Swaggart confessed on his nationally broadcast show in a now famous "I have sinned" speech.

The scandal resulted in Swaggart being suspended for three months from ministries associated with the Assemblies of God church, however, when his suspension was up, the national committee for the Assemblies concluded he was not repentant and immediately defrocked Swaggart. As a result, his program ran as an unaffiliated evangelical show and viewership fell significantly.

Mickey Gilley: Country Superstar

Mickey Gilley grew up just across the Mississippi from his cousins Lewis and Swaggart, but they played together often, singing Gospel and country music and teaching each other piano styles. In his early career (which notably took off after Lewis), Gilley released a few singles in New Orleans — starting with "Call Me Shorty" in 1958 — before going on a markedly successful southern tour of clubs and bars in the south in the early 1970s.

In 1970, Gilley opened a nightclub called Gilley's Club in Pasadena, Texas complete with all the stylings of a honky-tonk dive: live music, cheap beer and a mechanical bull that would go on to be featured in the 1980 blockbuster film "Urban Cowboy."

In 1974, with the re-release of his version of George Morgan's one-hit wonder "Room Full of Roses," Gilley finally garnered national acclaim. The single went to No. 50 on the pop music charts a the time, a feat for any country song, much less a new artist's track. By 1980, Gilley rebranded again to make the pop-country crossover with a slowed down rendition of "Stand By Me," which was featured (like his bull) in 1980's "Urban Cowboy." The dual success of the song and the film rocketed Gilley across genres, leading to 17 No. 1 country hits throughout his career.