‘The Gam­bler’ and mu­sic icon

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kristin M. Hall

Kenny Rogers, the smooth, Grammy-win­ning bal­ladeer who spanned jazz, folk, coun­try and pop with hits “Lu­cille” and “Lady” and em­braced his per­sona as “The Gam­bler” on records and TV, died Fri­day night. He was 81.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — 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 said. Rogers 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.

“Kenny was one of those artists who tran­scended be­yond one for­mat and ge­o­graphic bor­ders,” says Sarah Tra­h­ern, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Coun­try Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion. “He was a global su­per­star who helped in­tro­duce coun­try mu­sic to au­di­ences all around the world.”

Rogers was a five-time CMA Award win­ner, as well as the re­cip­i­ent of the CMA’s Wil­lie Nel­son Life­time Achieve­ment Award in 2013, the same year he was in­ducted into the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame. He re­ceived 10 awards from the Academy of Coun­try Mu­sic. He sold more than 47 mil­lion records in the United States alone, ac­cord­ing to the Record­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica.

Rogers was raised in pub­lic hous­ing in Hous­ton Heights with seven sib­lings. As a 20-year-old, he had a gold sin­gle called “That Crazy Feel­ing,” un­der the name Ken­neth Rogers, but when that early suc­cess stalled, he joined a jazz group, the Bobby Doyle Trio.

But his break­through came when he was asked to join the New Christy Min­strels, a folk group, in 1966. 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 broke up in 1974, Rogers started his solo ca­reer and found a big hit with the sad coun­try bal­lad “Lu­cille,” in 1977, which crossed over to the pop charts and earned Rogers his first Grammy. Sud­denly the star, Rogers added hit after hit for more than a decade.

“The Gam­bler,” the Grammy-win­ning story song penned by Don Sch­litz, came out in 1978 and be­came his sig­na­ture song with a sig­na­ture re­frain: “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”

The song spawned a hit TV movie of the same name and sev­eral more se­quels fea­tur­ing Rogers as pro­fes­sional gam­bler Brady Hawkes, and led to a lengthy side ca­reer for Rogers as a TV ac­tor and host of sev­eral TV spe­cials.

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.

AP 1977


Kenny Rogers, shown at his Brent­wood, Cal­i­for­nia, home in 1978, en­joyed cross­over suc­cess as a pop star.

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