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In this Oct 24, 2017 file photo, Kenny Rogers poses with his star on the Music City Walk of Fame in Nashville, Tenn. Photo: AP
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Actor, singer, 'The Gambler': Kenny Rogers dies at 81

24 Comments
By KRISTIN M HALL

Actor-singer Kenny Rogers, the smooth, Grammy-winning balladeer who spanned jazz, folk, country and pop with such hits as “Lucille,” “Lady” and “Islands in the Stream” and embraced his persona as “The Gambler” on record and on TV died Friday night. He was 81.

He died at home in Sandy Springs, Georgia, representative Keith Hagan told The Associated Press. He was under hospice care and died of natural causes, Hagan said.

The Houston-born performer with the husky voice and silver beard sold tens of millions of records, won three Grammys and was the star of TV movies based on “The Gambler” and other songs, making him a superstar in the ‘70s and ’80s. Rogers thrived for some 60 years before retired from touring in 2017 at age 79. Despite his crossover success, he always preferred to be thought of as a country singer.

“You either do what everyone else is doing and you do it better, or you do what no one else is doing and you don’t invite comparison,” Rogers told The Associated Press in 2015. “And I chose that way because I could never be better than Johnny Cash or Willie or Waylon at what they did. So I found something that I could do that didn’t invite comparison to them. And I think people thought it was my desire to change country music. But that was never my issue.”

A true rags-to-riches story, Rogers was raised in public housing in Houston Heights with seven siblings. As a 20-year-old, he had a gold single called “That Crazy Feeling,” under the name Kenneth Rogers, but when that early success stalled, he joined a jazz group, the Bobby Doyle Trio, as a standup bass player.

But his breakthrough came when he was asked to join the New Christy Minstrels, a folk group, in 1966. The band reformed as First Edition and scored a pop hit with the psychedelic song, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” Rogers and First Edition mixed country-rock and folk on songs like “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” a story of a Vietnam veteran begging his girlfriend to stay.

After the group broke up in 1974, Rogers started his solo career and found a big hit with the sad country ballad “Lucille,” in 1977, which crossed over to the pop charts and earned Rogers his first Grammy. Suddenly the star, Rogers added hit after hit for more than a decade.

“The Gambler,” the Grammy-winning story song penned by Don Schlitz, came out in 1978 and became his signature song with a signature refrain: “You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold ’em.” The song spawned a hit TV movie of the same name and several more sequels featuring Rogers as professional gambler Brady Hawkes, and led to a lengthy side career for Rogers as a TV actor and host of several TV specials.

Other hits included “You Decorated My Life,” “Every Time Two Fools Collide” with Dottie West, “Don’t Fall In Love with a Dreamer” with Kim Carnes, and “Coward of the County.” One of his biggest successes was “Lady,” written by Lionel Richie, a chart topper for six weeks straight in 1980. Richie said in a 2017 interview with the AP that he often didn’t finish songs until he had already pitched them, which was the case for “Lady.”

“In the beginning, the song was called, ‘Baby,'” Richie said. “And because when I first sat with him, for the first 30 minutes, all he talked about was he just got married to a real lady. A country guy like him is married to a lady. So, he said, ‘By the way, what’s the name of the song?’” Richie replies: “Lady.”

Over the years, Rogers worked often with female duet partners, most memorably, Dolly Parton. The two were paired at the suggestion of the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb, who wrote “Islands in the Stream.”

“Barry was producing an album on me and he gave me this song,” Rogers told the AP in 2017. “And I went and learned it and went into the studio and sang it for four days. And I finally looked at him and said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore.’ And he said, ‘You know what we need? We need Dolly Parton.’ I thought, ‘Man, that guy is a visionary.’”

Coincidentally, Parton was actually in the same recording studio in Los Angeles when the idea came up.

“From the moment she marched into that room, that song never sounded the same,” Rogers said. “It took on a whole new spirit.”

The two singers toured together, including in Australia and New Zealand in 1984 and 1987, and were featured in a HBO concert special. Over the years the two would continue to record together, including their last duet, “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” which was released in 2013. Parton reprised “Islands in the Stream” with Rogers during his all-star retirement concert held in Nashville in October 2017.

Rogers invested his time and money in a lot of other endeavors over his career, including a passion for photography that led to several books, as well as an autobiography, “Making It With Music.” He had a chain of restaurants called “Kenny Rogers Roasters,” and was a partner behind a riverboat in Branson, Missouri. He was also involved in numerous charitable causes, among them the Red Cross and MusicCares, and was part of the all-star “We are the World” recording for famine relief.

By the '90s, his ability to chart hits had waned, although he still remained a popular live entertainer with regular touring. Still he was an inventive businessman and never stopped trying to find his way back onto the charts.

At the age of 61, Rogers had a brief comeback on the country charts in 2000 with a hit song “Buy Me A Rose,” thanks to his other favorite medium, television. Producers of the series “Touched By An Angel” wanted him to appear in an episode, and one of his managers suggested the episode be based on his latest single. That cross-promotional event earned him his first No. 1 country song in 13 years.

Rogers' family is planning a private service “out of concern for the national COVID-19 emergency,” a statement posted early Saturday read. A public memorial will be held at a later date.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

24 Comments
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Always liked him and a lot of his songs' lyrics. 'You gotta know when to hold em/know when to fold em/know when to walk away/know when to run. RIP.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

You got to know when to hold 'em,

Know when to fold 'em,

Know when to walk away,

And know when to run.

Appropriate in today's world. R.I.P. Kenny Rogers.

Stay safe everyone!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I don't know much about the man, but I always liked his music. Fly straight, Mr Rogers.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

My aunt was a big fan and I always listened to him as a kid. He seemed to be a real gentleman. RIP.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Rip,Kenny.

My dad always loved his 'Coward of the County' song.

A life well lived.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

You've painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair...

Great memories of singing that song with the girls in the office where I was working at the time.

RIP Mr Rogers, great voice, some great songs - Coward of the County, The Gambler, and of course...

Oh Ruby, don't take your love to town

3 ( +3 / -0 )

RIP. The only song I can think of on the top of my head was Islands in the Stream with Dolly. A few years ago, I saw a photo of him for the first time in a long time. I was shocked at the plastic surgery.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

RIP Kenny. Will always remember your beautiful voice and music. My favorite is "Through the Years" as it was used at my wedding.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Damn he picked a fine time to leave us!!!

When I was about 8 I think every kid in Ireland could sing coward of the county although we never knew what the Gatlin boys had really done to Becky

Thanks for the tunes Mr Rogers

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Know what I'll be plugging in to the Karaoke next chance I get, Lucille!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

RIP

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't know much about the man, but I always liked his music. 

My ex used to work in a recording studio. She was always gushing about what a nice guy he was.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I always remember the Kenny Rodger's Roastery in KL when I hear his name. Good food. Good music.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

From “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In” to “Islands in the Stream," Kenny was a musical force. Thankfully, we'll have all of his music videos, movies and TV appearances to remember him by. Rest in peace, Kenny.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Was never a huge fan, but you had to respect The Gambler and its staying power. Islands in the Stream was a classic, too. Playing in my head as we speak, thanks to this. RIP, Kenny.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Thanks Kenny, for all your work. RIP

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A million chickens sleep a little easier tonight.

RIP Kenny. Knowing when to fold 'em has been a useful skill in my life.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hey, have a listen to BOOM! And then have a think, maybe have a cry!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In” 

I didn’t know he sang that song. Thanks. The clip from “The Big Lebowski” with that song is priceless.

invalid CSRF

0 ( +1 / -1 )

After seeing a veteran friend of mine at a VA hospital a few years ago I drove to a racino on the way back home and caught this artist's show that evening. $20 got you and hour and a half of Kenny's hits and a song from from his newest CD. Even though he was pigeonholed as 'country' he's done great diversity in his career and the audience diversity showed it. The laser display at the end of his #1 hit 'Lady' sure surprized and wowed us! He also had a whack sense of humor, but if you were put off by his blue language at his show - well, a racino is for adults anyway. His music and films have enriched many people's lives, including mine. I feel blessed to have seen him live in concert and he was excellent. His music decorated my life. ROXETTE, RUSH, ROGERS. The 3 R's of Recent Rock tragedies. And while we're on it, let's not forget that Kenny Rogers has long been a spokesperson for the Kewadin casinos run by the Chippewa Native Americans up in Michigan. I've patronized them too.

RIP KENNY RAY ROGERS 1938 - 2020 AND THANK YOU!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The Gambler he broke even...

RIP

2 ( +2 / -0 )

blue in greenMar. 22 03:56 pm JST

The Gambler he broke even...

RIP

And his musical career gave us a jackpot of terrific tunes to listen to, reflect and remember. And his gamble of life itself has been fruitful and long. RIP GAMBLER

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@starpunk:

Good post, sport. Had to look up 'racino' - never heard that word before. Obviously just a USA thang.

You saw an hour and a half of Kenny Rogers for $US20? I can guarantee you if you'd seen Kenny in Australia it would have cost you the equivalent of $US100 - and they would've been the cheap seats.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

BigYenMar. 23 10:42 am JST@starpunk:

Good post, sport. Had to look up 'racino' - never heard that word before. Obviously just a USA thang.

You saw an hour and a half of Kenny Rogers for $US20? I can guarantee you if you'd seen Kenny in Australia it would have cost you the equivalent of $US100 - and they would've been the cheap seats.

RACINO = RACE track + CASINO

If it has a Hard Rock Café, then the term is 'ROCKSINO'.

$20 for a Kenny Rogers show, $25 for Smokey Robinson, and I've seen (and sometimes met) several other acts incl. Wang Chung, Fixx, Blues Traveler, A Flock Of Seagulls, the late Eddie Money (2X), Starship, George Clinton, Little River Band, Village People, Fuel, Foghat, and many others, FREE. Of course in those cases all of the listed above acts I've seen in a gambling house which means it's to entice you to gamble. And the strategy works, every time. Those shows aren't exactly 'free' and you're right - $20 to see Kenny Rogers was a lure to play the slots after the show! There really are no free rides! 

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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