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Kenny Rogers has died at 81

Kenny Rogers, country music icon, dies at 81
Kenny Rogers, country music icon, dies at 81 00:42

Singer Kenny Rogers died Friday night, according to a statement from representative Keith Hagan. He was 81.

The statement said Rogers died "peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family." 

"The family is planning a small private service at this time out of concern for the national COVID-19 emergency," the statement said. "They look forward to celebrating Kenny's life publicly with his friends and fans at a later date."

Rogers spanned jazz, folk, country and pop with such hits as "Lucille," "Lady" and "Islands in the Stream." The Houston-born performer 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 the age of 79. Despite his crossover success, he always preferred to be thought of as a country singer. 

1 Night. 1 Place. 1 Time: A Heroes & Friends Tribute to Randy Travis
Kenny Rogers performs during 1 Night. 1 Place. 1 Time: A Heroes & Friends Tribute to Randy Travis at Bridgestone Arena on February 8, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Outback Concerts

"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 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.

A true rags-to-riches story, Rogers was raised in public housing in Houston Heights with seven siblings. His breakthrough came when he was asked to join the New Christy Minstrels, a folk group, in 1966. 

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.

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." One of his biggest successes was "Lady," written by Lionel Richie, a chart topper for six weeks straight in 1980.

At the age of 61, Rogers had a brief comeback on the country charts in 2000 with a hit song "Buy Me A Rose," thanks to his other favorite medium, television. Producers of the series "Touched By An Angel" wanted him to appear in an episode, and one of his managers suggested the episode be based on his latest single. That cross-promotional event earned him his first No. 1 country song in 13 years.

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. 

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