By Simon Hattenstone
Lewis almost became a preacher himself, enrolling at the Southwestern Bible Institute in Texas. But rock’n’roll got the better of him. When he turned from hymns to boogie-woogie, he was expelled. Ever since, this has been the dichotomy in Lewis’s life: a man raised on the threat of hell, fire, damnation, who could not resist the lure of the devil’s own music.
When I mention this today, he’s not having any of it. Say something’s white to Lewis, and he’ll swear it’s black. “How can it be the devil’s music? Satan didn’t give me the talent. God gave me the talent, and I’ve always told people that.”
Yet listen to an early recording made at Sun Studios, and he’s railing at boss Sam Phillips, half crazed with the notion that he has the devil inside him. There is also a famous story that he asked Presley if he believed a rock’n’roller could go to heaven.
Lewis smiles when I mention this. “I said, ‘Elvis, I’m going to ask you one thing before we part company here. If you die, do you think you’d go to heaven or hell?’ And he got real red in the face, and then he got real white in the face, and he said, ‘Jerry Lee, don’t you ever say that to me agin.’ I said, ‘Well, I won’t even say it to you again.’ Hahahaha!” He laughs, mockingly, at Elvis’s country accent. “He was very frightened.”
But Elvis wasn’t the only one who thought about hell? Lewis nods. “I was always worried whether I was going to heaven or hell,” he concedes. “I still am. I worry about it before I go to bed; it’s a very serious situation. I mean you worry, when you breathe your last breath, where are you going to go?”
How many times a day does he pray? “Just about as many hours as there are in the day, I pray. I pray all the time.”
“He talks to God like he’s just talking to you, it’s amazing,” Judith says.
Is death something he fears? “No, I’m not too much on fear. Well, I love God, I love Jesus Christ, and I worship the precious, precious, precious Holy Ghost. But I love living, breathing, I thank God for that all the time.”
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