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 records 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.”
His “Islands in the Stream” duet partner Dolly Parton posted a video on Twitter on Saturday morning, choking up as she held a picture of the two of them together. “I loved Kenny with all my heart and my heart is broken and a big ole chunk of it is gone with him today," Parton said in the video.
Some reactions from the world of music and beyond to the passing of Kenny Rogers, who died Friday night at age 81.
"In addition to his tremendous talent, Kenny was a generous and caring man, a wise mentor to so many of us. He loved his friends, his family, his fellow musicians and his fans, and they loved him, right back. Fifty years ago, The Gambler took a gamble on me and my first band from small-town Texas, and his big-hearted support launched many careers, including mine. He also gave me some of the best career advice I ever got: ‘You’d better be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you’re going to meet those same people on the way back down."— Don Henley
"What a career, what a talent, what a legacy. Now this world is left with a big shadow, center stage where Kenny Rogers stood. No one else can take his place. Now he's taken his place amongst the Heavenly stars. It's a very sad day for all of us. But God is smiling. Rest easy my friend." —Tanya Tucker
“No one bridged the gap between country and pop more often and better than K.R. He will be missed but his music and diverse style of story-telling will live on forever.” — Billy Ray Cyrus
"I loved Kenny with all my heart and my heart is broken and a big ole chunk of it is gone with him today." — Dolly Parton
“The world has lost a great artist and interpreter of songs. I had the honor of announcing his election to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and was thrilled when I realized how much it meant to him. Even after all the other honors he had won, he was truly excited about this one. His accomplishments will live forever.” — Bill Anderson
“Kenny was one of those legendary smoky tenors. I was fortunate to have him be a mentor on ‘American Idol.’ He had such wise words for another aspiring whiskey tenor. Thanks Kenny for ‘Believing in me.’ My condolences to his family, Ken Jr and also the Butlers for helping him create such great music.” — Taylor Hicks
“An icon that will be missed by so many. He was an inspiration to me, I loved the way he delivered a song and crossed over so many genres. ‘The Gambler’ was my favorite song and feel blessed to have whiteness him being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He will live on in our hearts and with his music.” — Lucas Hoge