Kenny Rogers, the genial country crossover singer as beloved for being “The Gambler” as he was a movie star and restaurant entrepreneur, died late Friday night at the age of 81.
Rogers’ spokesperson confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the hitmaker passed away from natural causes at his Sandy Springs home. He was under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family.
Out of concern for the coronavirus pandemic, Rogers’ family is planning a small, private service now and will celebrate his life publicly with friends and fans at a later date.
In June 2016, Rogers, a Houston native, played his final show in his adopted hometown – a hits-filled retrospective dubbed "The Gambler's Last Deal" at Chastain Park Amphitheatre. Due to a series of health challenges, Rogers' farewell tour, which stretched into 2018, was cut short on the advice of doctors.
Throughout his 60-year career, Rogers’ distinctive velvet rasp powered chart-toppers including “Lady,” “Lucille,” “She Believes in Me,” “Through the Years” and, with lifelong friend Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream.”
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton wave good-bye to the crowd after performing for the last time at the All In For the Gambler tribute to Kenny Rogers at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017.
Following his debut with his group, the First Edition, Rogers earned more than 20 solo No. 1 hits on the country charts between 1977 and 1987, with “Lady” and “Islands in the Stream” also topping the pop charts.
Along with his musical dominance, Rogers’ pop culture presence was so ubiquitous that his Kenny Rogers Roasters chain of chicken restaurants was fodder for the plot of a classic 1996 “Seinfeld” episode, while Rogers endeared himself to a new generation in 2014 with his pitch-perfect performance in a Geico commercial that tapped into the everlasting appeal of “The Gambler.”
Rogers’ career landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame and his awards haul included three Grammys, six Country Music Association Awards and the CMA Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, among others.
Rogers was married five times and is survived by his wife Wanda and five children, including twin teenage sons, Jordan and Justin.
Melissa Ruggieri has covered music and entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2010 and created the Atlanta Music Scene blog. She's kept vampire hours for more than two decades and remembers when MTV was awesome.