The name “Kenny Rogers” is a name which resonates through country music. Rogers dominated the pop and country charts in the 1970s and 1980s.
Here’s what we know about the country music legend’s recent history and health issues, including why he died.
His family are planning a small private service at this time with a public memorial planned for a later date.
Rogers had announced a farewell tour in 2015 and was able to keep it going through December 2017.
In April 2018, shortly before he was to spend a few months finishing out the tour after a break, he announced that he was having to call off the remaining dates due to unspecified “health challenges.”
“I didn’t want to take forever to retire,” Rogers revealed. “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. I could never properly thank them for the encouragement and support they’ve given me throughout my career and the happiness I’ve experienced as a result of that.”
In 2018, Rogers’ signature song “The Gambler” was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
It was the most recent of a lifetime of honors bestowed on the singer.
“I came into country music not trying to change country music but trying to survive,” he said in a 2016 interview.
“And so I did songs that were not country but were more pop. Nowadays they’re not doing country songs at all. What they’re doing is creating their own genre of country music. But I told somebody the other day, country music is what country people will buy. If the country audience doesn’t buy it, they’ll kick it out. And if they do, then it becomes country music. It’s just era of country music we’re in.”
He worked profitably with a number of other female vocalists, including Dolly Parton, Dottie West, Sheena Easton, Kim Carnes and Anne Murray.
Rogers is a consummate storyteller, with an intimate and compelling style that almost demands the listener’s concentration.
Rogers turned his music success into a successful side career as an actor. His 1978 country chart-topper “The Gambler” spawned five popular TV movies, while some of his other hits also inspired small-screen features.
Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Country Music Association the same year.
Kenny was born in Houston, he was the fourth of eight children in a poor family. He started play guitar as a teenager, and would sometimes perform with another aspiring local musician and future star, Mickey Gilley.
His early professional career was stylistically eclectic. While in high school, he formed a vocal group, the Scholars, which recorded for Carlton Records, a local label.
After a brief stint at the University of Houston, he played bass with the jazz groups of Bobby Doyle and Kirby Stone.
In 1966 he moved to Los Angeles and joined the folk-pop unit the New Christy Minstrels vocalist Barry McGuire and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Jerry Yester among its members at one time or another.
With fellow Minstrels Mike Settle, Terry Williams and Thelma Camacho, Rogers founded the rock-leaning group the First Edition in 1967. The group had two top 10 pop hits.
In 1976, Rogers signed a solo deal with UA. Rogers’ had his first No. 1 country hit and reached No. 5 on the national pop chart. It also scored Rogers his first Grammy, for best male country vocal performance.
Rogers also partnered with longtime female star West, and the duo racked up three No. 1 country singles for UA and then Liberty in 1978-81: “Every Time Two Fools Collide,” “All I Ever Need Is You” and “What Are We Doin’ in Love.”
In the space of 10 years he received five more No. 1 solo country singles which were Grammy-winning. They pushed the albums “The Gambler” and “Kenny” to No. 12 and No. 5.
Rogers’ found him moving increasingly into pop terrain which solidified his standing as country’s biggest crossover attraction; his version of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” with Sheena Easton ruled the country chart and rose to No. 6 on the pop chart.
In all, he recorded 23 top 10 country hits during the decade, five of which crossed to the pop side.
Though it failed to even dent the pop charts, “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine,” Rogers’ duet with singer-pianist Ronnie Milsap became Rogers’ next-to-last No. 1 country single in 1987.
It also reaped a Grammy for best country vocal duet performance.
Rogers began to fall out of fashion in the ’90s, as a younger generation of country musicians flexing a less countrypolitan style supplanted him.
In 1999, he notched a final No. 1 country hit, “Buy Me a Rose,” with Billy Dean and Alison Krauss.
Rogers turned his attention to various enterprises, opening a chain of fast-food chicken outlets, Kenny Rogers Roasters, and a Sprint car manufacturing firm, Gamblers Chassis in the nineties.
In 2012, he issued a memoir, “Luck or Something Like It,” and a novel, “What Are the Chances,” in 2013. He was the recipient of the CMA Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award and received a similar honor from CMT with its Artist of a Lifetime Award in 2015.
In September 2015, Rogers announced his retirement not long after a widely aired commercial for Geico insurance saw him reprising “The Gambler” for comedic effect.
At the Oct. 25, 2017 tribute concert in Nashville, Rogers joined in jocular exchanges with some of the homage-payers, notably Parton, who quipped, “I want to see what condition your condition’s really in.” They reprised their recorded duets of “You Can’t Make Old Friends” and “Islands In the Stream,” and Parton additionally sang him her own signature song, “I Will Always Love You.”
“I hope my fans understand that I’m a father first and a singer second,” Rogers said about his planned retirement from touring, mentioning at that time that he had 11-year-old twin boys with his wife, Wanda Miller.
“As it turns out, I’m missing some very great parts of my boys’ lives. I know as well as anybody else how that time gets away from you. And I don’t want to miss it. I just worry about how much longer I’m going to be here, and I want to have time to spend with them. It’s pretty simple.”
Married five times, Rogers is survived by his last wife Wanda and five children. Kenny signed over his $1.3 million home to his wife, Wanda Miller.
Kenny Rogers developed bladder cancer because of his previous battle with hepatitis C.
The same disease that caused him to retire from the public eye in 2018.
The singer reportedly developed the rather common ailment more than 25 years ago, although it’s unclear how he developed the liver disease.
“Kenny has always tried to take the best, most optimistic approach to his health problems and not complain about what he’s going through,” according to the outlet in 2019.
“But since he’s gone AWOL and even his close friends aren’t hearing from him, you just fear the worst, that he’s decided to live out his final days with just his family at his side.
Kenny has passed away peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice while surrounded by his family.
“The family is planning a small private service at this time out of concern for the national COVID-19 emergency,” according to the statement released by his representatives. “They look forward to celebrating Kenny’s life publicly with his friends and fans at a later date.”
We wish the family, friends and fans of Kenny Rogers all the best during this obviously difficult time.