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Kenny Rogers, country music icon, dies at 81

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Kenny Rogers, a longtime star of country music, died Friday night, according to a statement posted by his family. He was 81.

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.

In all, Rogers had 24 No. 1 hits and was the winner of six CMA Awards and three Grammys, the family's 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.'

Kenny Rogers has passed away at the age of 81. (2015 Daniel Knighton)

"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.”

Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton will sing their famous duet "Islands in the Stream" one final time at Rogers' farewell concert on Oct. 25, 2017. (AP)

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.

Country music star Kenny Rogers thanks the audience at the ceremony for the 2013 inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame. (The Associated Press)

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.

Fox News' Jessica Napoli and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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