Legendary country music superstar Kenny Rogers passed away peacefully in his home on Friday night, according to a statement released by his family. The 81-year-old artist was beloved by countless fans and friends, and was an American icon.
Known for such hits as “The Gambler,” “Lady,” “Islands in the Stream,” and “Lucille,” Rogers died peacefully at home in Sandy Springs, Ga., of natural causes at 10:25 p.m., the statement said.
Born in Houston, Texas, Rogers was raised in public housing along with seven siblings. He had his first gold single at age 20 with a song called “That Crazy Feeling” under the name Kenneth Rogers.
He then joined a jazz group, the Bobby Doyle Trio, as a standup bass player. His breakthrough came in 1966, when he was asked to join a folk group called the New Christy Minstrels. 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).” After the group disbanded in 1974, Rogers pursued a solo career and his 1977 hit “Lucille” crossed over to the pop charts and earned the crooner his first Grammy.
“The Gambler,” written by Don Schlitz came out in 1978, which became Rogers’ signature song he later developed into a series of television movies that he starred in.
One of his biggest hits was “Lady,” written by Lionel Richie, a chart topper for six weeks straight in 1980. 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.”
Over the years, Rogers collaborated with several female duet partners, most notably, 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 Associated Press 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.’
“From the moment she marched into that room, that song never sounded the same,” Rogers added. “It took on a whole new spirit.”
Rogers and Parton toured together, leading to an HBO concert special. The two later recorded “You Can’t Make Old Friends” in 2013. That same year, Rogers was a winner of the CMA’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He received a total of 10 awards from the Academy of Country Music. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Rogers sold more than 47 million records in the United States alone.
He was a superstar for six decades before retiring from touring in 2017 at the age of 79. Despite his crossover success, Rogers 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.”
Last May, Rogers was admitted to a Georgia hospital for dehydration, amid rumors that his overall health was failing.
In 2018, health problems prompted Rogers to call off shows during what was billed as his farewell concert tour.
“Kenny Rogers has been working through a series of health challenges and has been advised to cancel all performances through the end of the year to focus on recuperation,” a statement from the singer’s management said at the time.
“I didn’t want to take forever to retire,” Rogers was quoted as saying. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to say farewell to the fans over the course of the past two years on ‘The Gambler’s Last Deal’ tour.”
In addition to his musical craft, Rogers had a chain of restaurants called Kenny Rogers Roasters and was a partner behind a riverboat in Branson, Mo.
He was involved in a number of charitable causes, including the Red Cross and MusiCares.
Rogers is survived by his wife, Wanda, and his sons Justin, Jordan, Chris and Kenny Jr., as well as two brothers, a sister and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, his representative said.
The 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.
Hours after the news broke, Dolly Parton, one of Rogers’ most notable collaborative partners who toured with the country icon, posted a tearful tribute to her friend.
“Well, I couldn’t believe it this morning when I got up, turned on the TV checking to see what the coronavirus was doing, and they told me that my friend and singing partner Kenny Rogers had passed away,” Parton said in a video filmed inside her home.
“And I know that we all know Kenny is in a better place than we are today but I’m for sure he’s going to be talking to God sometime today, if ain’t already, and he’s going to be asking him to spread some light on this darkness going on here. But I loved Kenny with all my heart. My heart’s broken. A big ol’ chunk of it has gone with him today and I think that I can speak for all his family, his friends and fans, when I say that I will always love him.”
Parton then showed off a framed photograph she had inside of her home of her and Kenny.
“I just happened to have this picture when I woke up this morning of us,” Parton said as she broke into tears. “I walked out and thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll hold that up for everybody,’ so I know you’re sad as I am but God bless you Kenny. Fly high, straight into the arms of God. And to the rest of you, keep the faith.”
Blake Shelton took to his Twitter to react to Rogers’ passing, noting that country music’s loss was far too great to put into words.
“I can’t express on twitter the impact Kenny Rogers the artist the man had on me. He was always very kind and fun to be around. Rest In Peace Gambler…,” Shelton wrote.
Rising singer-songwriter Parker McCollum, a native of Texas, referred to Rogers as an “absolute legend” in a tweet.
“RIP to an absolute legend and a Crockett, TX native…Kenny Rogers! Wow!” the 27-year-old wrote on the social media platform.
Country music star and Fox Nation host John Rich shared his personal memories with the “Gambler” crooner on Friday morning, along with a throwback black and white photo of the pair.
“I had the huge honor of producing songs with this American Giant. He was kind, funny, and one of the greatest purveyors of a lyric in the history of music. The world will miss you forever. Thank you for the decades of incredible music! You define a generation. #RIPKennyRogers,” Rich tweeted.
Longtime country artist Charlie Daniels, 83, took to Twitter to pay tribute to the “Lucille” crooner as he woke up to the news.
“Thank you Kenny Rogers for being a part of our lives for so long. Your songs are woven into the fabric of our memories, classics, that will live on in the musical heart of a world that will miss you so much,” Daniels tweeted. “Rest in peace Gambler.”
Founding member of the country trio Lady Antebellum, Charles Kelley, recalled opening up for the country legend years ago.
“What a great man. You will be missed #kennyrogers. This was from 2009 when @ladyantebellum got the opportunity to open up a show in Switzerland for Kenny,” he wrote underneath a photo of the band with their arms around Rogers. “He really opened the door for us and touring internationally.”
Oak Ridge Boys member Joe Bonsall was in disbelief as he shared with his followers the moment he learned of Rogers’ passing.
“Asleep … when Mary yells ‘Oh Joseph … Kenny Rogers died,'” the tenor wrote on Twitter. “I am a man of words but right now I have none … I am stunned and heartbroken … I loved this man … #RestinpeaceKennyrogers #SweetMusicMan.”
“High Cost of Living” singer Jamey Johnson credited the “Gambler” for leaving a mark on his childhood.
“So many songs you sang painted the canvas of my musical youth. Thank you for dedicating your life to enriching the lives of people like me with your gift. Rest well Sweet Music Man @_kennyrogers,” Johnson wrote on Instagram.