Amidst all the craziness of coronavirus quarantining heading into the first weekend of spring 2020, the news came out late last night that country music legend Kenny Rogers passed away. He was 81, dying of natural causes in hospice care and surrounded by family.
Dolly Parton, his longtime friend and singing partner on the 1983 hit "Islands In the Stream," paid tribute to Rogers on Instagram, and others have sent their condolences around the world.
Born in Houston in 1938, Rogers' career dates back to the late 1950s when he started recording with jazz singer Bobby Doyle before moving into folk-rock with the New Christy Minstrels in 1961. That group eventually morphed into the First Edition, which added a more psychedelic feel and spawned late 60s hits like "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town." Rogers focused on country music in the 1970s and became one of its biggest stars, often "crossing over" to pop chart hits as well. He wrote music with Lionel Richie and performing duets with the likes of Sheena Easton, Kim Carnes, Dottie West, and Dolly Parton.
Some of his biggest songs included his 1977 hit "Lucille," which helped launch his first solo album to the top of the country charts; the #1 hit "Lady," a product of his songwriting duo with Richie; "The Gambler" and "Coward of the County," from 1978's album The Gambler; more ballads like "Through The Years" and "You Decorated My Life," country-pop hits like "Love Will Turn You Around" from 1982, which was featured in the movie Six Pack; his 1980 duet with Kim Carnes "Don't Fall In Love With A Dreamer" and his 1983 duet with Sheena Easton, a cover of Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight"; and his 1983 duet with Dolly Parton, "Islands in the Stream." He continued to tour and crank out his through the 90s and into the 2000s; his 2006 album Water & Bridges yielded several country hits including "I Can't Unlove You" and "Calling Me," the latter of which featured Don Henley and was nominated for a Grammy Award. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
In sports, his classic "The Gambler" became the anthem for the 2007 Rugby World Cup by the English national rugby team, and he embarked on a large tour of Britain the following two years, playing his classics and Christmas songs - of which he released many over the years.
He dived into the chicken business in 1991, co-founding Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurants, which championed rotisserie chicken and aimed for serving healthier meals. It grew quickly in the mid-1990s and inspired a Seinfeld episode where Kramer loved constantly eating their chicken. While their U.S. locations have all since closed, Kenny Rogers Roasters still has over 150 locations worldwide, mostly in Asia.
So among all those hits, his 1978 rendition of "The Gambler" probably remains the one identified with him most. Why not watch him sing it on a train - where the song is set - with some of The Muppets? See it below, and I have some of his other big hits available for you to enjoy, too.