Kenny Rogers was one of the most legendary country music stars of all time. And his life outside his music was a bubbly one. Between the women, the children, and the drama, there’s a lot you probably didn’t know about the country crooner.
The legend sadly passed away in March of 2020 at the age of 81, leaving behind his family and millions of fans who are mourning over his passing.
While everyone seems to think they know all about his private life – including his relationship with Dolly Parton – the retired music star had some things of his own to say about it.
Kenny before it all
Kenny was actually Kenneth. It was variety show host Larry Kane that told Kenny to change his name from Kenneth – it was too official of a name. Larry made sure Kenny would indeed change his name as he announced that KENNY (not Kenneth) was coming out on stage to sing his song.
Once the public heard Kenny, he couldn’t take it back. Kenny was happy with the shift in his name once the girls in the crowd starting screaming it.
Believe it or not, Kenny was first in a jazz trio and then in a psychodelic hippie pop band! We couldn’t image it either, don’t feel bad. Kenny got his ears pierced, and let his hair (everywhere) grow out. Kenny was the lead singer of the band, The First Edition.
You may not recognize the name of the band but we’re pretty sure you heard their music. Their song, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) was in the hit 1968 film The Big Lebowski.
Kenny had been married a record five times. His fourth divorce from wife Marianne Gordon is one for the books, though. Not only was this divorce the messiest of all of his many divorces but it was the one that cost Kenny the most.
Marianne and Kenny were married for 16 years and share one son together. When the two decided to call it quits, Marianne ended up getting $60 million of the singer’s fortune.
Kenny owned his very own restaurant called Kenny Rogers Roasters back in the 90s and early 2000s. It was there that he got a shot of instant fame when Mad TV decided to make him the butt of their joke when they featured Kenny and his restaurant in their shows.
Audiences loved the show and seeing “Kenny” on it (portrayed by Will Sasso), so it goes to show Mad TV – no one can mess with Kenny!
Kenny was a bold man. He proved that when he decided it would be a good idea to set up a 1-800 number so that women could call him to have intimate relations via the phone.
These days, we all couldn’t care less, but back in the 80s and 90s, this was down right scandalous. Kenny didn’t think it was such a big deal and that he was entirely innocent in the matter since he was hiding nothing, but back then the scandal almost cost Kenny his entire career.
Listening to momma
Kenny asked his mom once what he should do with his life. His mother, a very wise woman, told him that he should follow what makes him feel good. Just like the saying, doing something you love means you never feel like you’re working at all.
Kenny decided to listen to momma and go into what he loved most of all – music. Kenny also went on to say that through his love of his work he had been able to better balance the ups and downs of fame and fortune.
You would expect someone like the legendary Kenny Rogers to be rolling in the dough. Well, you would be wrong. Between the divorces and overspending, Kenny was almost broke much of the time.
He never learned how to handle his finances in a wise manner and would spend what he earned as quickly as he earned it. Kenny said that one of the best purchased that he ever made was a set of automatic sprinklers. Practical!
Wild wild Kenny
Kenny had his first intimate relationship with a woman when he was 19 years old. He managed to get his partner pregnant through that first time of his! The woman ended up giving birth to Kenny’s first child, a daughter.
Although she was biologically his, Kenny doesn’t have a relationship with her because the mom went off and married someone else and had that man raise their daughter as his own. Kenny was always alright with her decision.
Kenny married wife number five, Wanda Miller, on June 1, 1997. The two are still together and are as happy as can be. Kenny had said many times that he thinks Wanda was his true soul mate.
The interesting part of their relationship is that Kenny was two years older than his in laws! Wanda’s parents initially did not approve of their union due to his age, but they were soon won over by his charismatic personality.
The opposite of his dad
Kenny’s father was a World War II veteran who returned from the war to find unemployment and emptiness in his life. He eventually turned to the bottle for comfort which led to a very tense home life for Kenny.
It was his father’s behavior that lead Kenny to be even more ambitious than he thought he could be. He didn’t want to be like his father and sit around all day feeling sorry for himself for being poor.
When Kenny was younger he loved being out in the sun. When he was older, that time in the sun resulted in a skin cancer diagnosis. Everything was taken care of once it was detected but it had Kenny out of the sun thereafter.
Kenny also spoke about his condition during National Skin Cancer Month. He also said that he was scared to miss out on the chance to be with his family and loved ones. His fear of not having enough time with them is what eventually led him to quit the music business.
Kenny and Dottie were a duet match made in heaven. The country crooners were made for singing together. The two made hit after hit, such as Every Time Two Fools Collide, What Are We Doin’ in Love, and All I Ever Needed Is You.
When Dottie was on her deathbed, Kenny would come and sing and talk to her to try and get her on the better side of things. Sadly, doctors said that Dottie was past the point of no return.
Kenny loved the game of tennis almost as much as he loved music. It was said that he would play for eight hours a day several times a week (when did he have the time?).
He was so good that he ranked nationally in the United States Tennis Association. When he would go on tour, he would still find the time to get his tennis time in.
Kenny made an appearance on the iconic show Reno 911 back in 2004. On the episode, Kenny was in Reno for a book signing and used the show for its security detail.
Once fans of his heard that he was in town and on the show, they raced over to Kenny’s private detail and got themselves into a whole heap of trouble. It was indeed a very funny episode.
Kenny made us all laugh when he decided to take on a Geico commercial, you know, the one with the little lizard. In the commercial, Kenny was playing poker with some other people when he begins to sing one of his many hit songs, The Gambler.
The other three people at the table just look on in wonder as Kenny continues to sing. We have to admit, it was one of the best Geico commercials to date.
When Kenny wanted to come out with a greatest love hits back in the 90s, he didn’t want to decide for himself which songs were to be on the album, he wanted his fans to choose it for him since it was for them anyway.
He asked his fans who were watching QVC, where the record would be on sale on, to vote as to which songs would go on the record. His fans did just that and the record was produced.
Obviously Kenny would have a memoir, his fans want to know it all! It was in 2012 that Kenny finally came out with his memoir, Luck or Something Like It: A Memoir.
In his memoir, Kenny talks about the many years he had been in the music industry and the many events and trials he had been through. The memoir goes back to his jazz beginnings and all the way through to today’s country music legend status.
There’s no doubting Kenny Rogers sold a serious amount of records in his time; so many, in fact, that he became the eighth most profitable musician of all time (according to the RIAA).
Kenny was no stranger to Gold records, with over 30 of his albums earning that status. He also earned 19 Platinum records and one Diamond. To get a Diamond record is no easy feat – over 10 million copies need to be sold to earn the title. His Greatest Hits Album was the winner of this prestigious award, as it sold over 24 million copies worldwide.
We Are The World
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s will remember the African famine news, which dominated the headlines in that time. A huge drought meant countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, and dozens of others were left hungry.
Millions of people were unable to eat, with thousands not making it through these tough times. During this time, some of the biggest musicians of all time decided to record a song in order to raise much-needed funds. The song, called We Are The World, raised $60 million and featured the one and only Kenny Rogers.
Six Pack movie
Kenny Rogers wasn’t just renowned for his incredible musical talents. He also had his own movie! Six Pack was a film based on a group of orphans who strip down Kenny’s racing car. In order to get all of the parts back, Kenny had to race his stripped down vehicle and win his car back.
While it wasn’t a huge hit, it did end up making around $20 million in the US Box Office; more than most musicians’ debut movies.
Entering the Hall of Fame
One thing that every musician aims for is recognition in the Hall of Fame. Kenny Rogers finally earned his spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame 2013, nearly 50-years after he first started making music.
There was no denying that Kenny had played a big part in making country music more mainstream and inspired so many artists to pursue their musical journey in this genre. Big-name country singer Garth Brooks had often said he credits Kenny with inspiring him and teaching him how to be a showman when he first started out.
The Kenny Rogers car
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Kenny Rogers was not just known as a music star; he was also a racing team! The star put his name to a sprint car racing team who ended up being pretty successful, winning the World of Outlaws Race and Knoxville Nationals.
The Kenny Rogers team was headed up by C.K. Spurlock from Hendersonville in Tennessee and truly lived up to their legendary name. The cars themselves were called “The Gambler” in honor of Kenny’s hit song of the same name.
The Best of the Real West
Kenny Rogers had always been a self-confessed history nerd, so jumped at the chance to be involved with a show aired on The History Channel. The Real West ran from 1991 until 1994, originally for A&E and then being shown on The History Channel after.
The show focuses on the history of the old, wild west and looks at some of the significant events that shaped Western American history. There are still re-runs on The History Channel if you need to get your Wild West fix.
Even more books
While Kenny could have just stopped with a memoir, he was keen to get more books on the shelves and into the homes of people around the world. He released a collection of coffee table books that showed off his artistic side, including This is My Country and Your Friends and Mine.
The two mentioned featured rather impressive images of celebrities such as Willie Nelson, Michael Jackson, and Tammy Wynette, to name a few.
Exclusively at Cracker Barrel
If you ever fancy a nostalgia trip or need somewhere to stop on a long road trip, Cracker Barrel is the place to be. Not only do they have a huge collection of country memorabilia, but they’re also the only place to sell The Love of God.
This album, by Kenny Rogers, is filled with songs that were big when Kenny was growing up, along with a number of big gospel hits. Even more of a reason to visit Cracker Barrel now!
Kenny Rogers also features on an episode of Seinfeld, along with his world-famous chicken franchise. In this episode, a bright red light shines from the restaurant which drives Seinfeld and Kramer crazy.
They fight to get the restaurant moved, before actually going in and seeing what all the fuss about the chicken is about. They fall in love with the food right before the restaurant gets moved, leading to them actually being sad that it’s gone. Typical.
In news that broke the hearts of Kenny Rogers fans everywhere, the country star announced that he was going to retire once the 2017 concert season was over. At the time, Kenny was nearly 79-years old and said that he could no longer take his incredible music on tours around the world.
After nearly 60-years of touring and performing, we can forgive Kenny for needing a break from the hectic country music scene.
Kenny Rogers wasn’t always a big country music star. In fact, he was into a completely different genre before that – jazz! Kenny played bass for a band named the Bobby Doyle Trio, but unfortunately, they didn’t do so well.
As they were making no money and barely getting any bookings, they finally decided to call it a day in 1965. And it’s lucky they did. Otherwise, Kenny may not have been one of the biggest country stars in the world today!
Believe it or not, Kenny Rogers had a rather compelling passion. Interior design! He’s adamant he had a real eye for designing houses, having put his stamp on over 20 properties so far. He also had his own interior design studio with Jim Weinberg, who Kenny had been friends with for quite some time.
Kenji Design Studio, as his business is named, had tackled some huge properties; including the Atlanta chain of the US President’s hotels.
The chicken chain featured in the Seinfeld episode mentioned earlier is real! Kenny Rogers Roasters is a fried chicken shop that the musician set up to take on giants such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Boston Market.
Kenny wanted his chicken to have much less salt than the other big names, but unfortunately, it didn’t go so well. The American stores have all since closed up, but there are still some left in Malaysia and the Philippines.
Men who look like Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers was once asked what his favorite website on the internet was and you’ll never believe his answer. It’s a parody site, about him! MenWhoLookLikeKennyRogers.com asks people to send in pictures of people they think look like the country superstar.
Kenny was happy to give his seal of approval for the site, as long as it was kept in good taste. Admit it, you’re now going to spend all day on it, aren’t you?
A potential fling
Everyone knows how close Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton were, having recorded several chart topping hits together. Who can forget classics such as You Can’t Make Old Friends, Islands in the Stream, and their Christmas special?!
Many people believed that the two had a fling, particularly as they were so close. Kenny Rogers had had five wives over the years, so if they had been seeing each other, it would likely have been a secret affair.
Does anyone remember the awesome Kenny Rogers Classic? This event saw big stars in movie, TV, and sport pitted against each other in order to raise money for charity. During the years we’ve seen John McEnroe trying his hand at basketball, Michael Jordan giving tennis a go, and even Woody Harrelson playing golf.
This big weekend was extremely popular, with all the money raised going to the homeless in Athens, Georgia.
Getting the surgery
Kenny Rogers had admitted he didn’t like the eyelid plastic surgery he got, but he’s also given a pretty simple reason as to why he got it. Nope, it wasn’t for medical reasons or anything.
Turns out, Kenny Rogers wanted to get eyelid plastic surgery so that he “didn’t look like an old man with a super young wife.” Well, that settles it then! Just a shame he didn’t like the end result.
Stone cold sober
Many musicians and bands were known for taking illegal substances before going on stage in the 1960s and 1970s, but not Kenny! He admitted that he did once take something before he went on stage one time and thought he sounded fantastic.
However, he soon found out that his vocals were completely off and he vowed never to do it again. Proving he’s in it solely for the music, Kenny Rogers will only perform sober.
Gallagher, the philosopher
Gallagher was an extremely popular comedian, known for his utterly bizarre take on life, use of props, and his penchant for smashing fruit up. While many of us take this comedian with a pinch of salt, Kenny Rogers believes he’s much more than that.
He’s said that Gallagher is one of the most introspective and thought-provoking people he’s ever met; a philosopher of sorts. Kenny even still imagines what life would be like if chairs were designed for legs that bend in the wrong way.
No free meal for you!
Apparently, the pictures posted of Kenny Rogers at the Kenny Rogers Roasters don’t look much like Kenny Rogers. During a vacation to Greece, Rogers decided that he wanted to stop by one of his franchise restaurants for a quick bite.
While the singer thought that he could have a free dinner at his own restaurant, he was mistaken. Unfortunately for him, the restaurant’s manager looked at the real Kenny Rogers and did not believe that he was actually the man in the photos. Rogers eventually had to pay for his dinner.
As it turned out, Rogers almost prevented his autobiography from being published at the last minute. The famous singer thought that the book, which was titled Luck or Something Like It, would make him look bad because it was only about his scandalous behavior.
The publishers calmed Rogers down and promised him that they were really interested in his ‘rags to riches’ story of becoming a highly successful country singer. It was only then that Rogers allowed them to print it.
One of the main reasons why Kenny Rogers was so successful is because he was known as one of the nicest people in the entertainment business. Rogers said that he received a piece of advice a long time ago, that if you’ll hurt someone on your way up, they will find a way to bring you down.
He also said that he felt that many people genuinely liked him, and would aid him whenever he was in trouble.
A thin line
Many people say that one of the basic fundamentals behind the persona of Kenny Rogers was the notion that there was little difference between being selfish and highly motivated.
Rogers himself admitted that he sacrificed a great deal of things in his life, including his wives and good friends, because of his endless drive for performing. However, Rogers pointed out that when he was married for the fifth time, he realized that maybe he was wrong.
Home Improvement was one of the biggest shows of the 90s. Kenny recorded a special song for the series finale of the show.
If you look for it now, you are sure to not find it since no one had been able to uncover it since the show’s end. Home Improvement was based on two men who ran a home improvement show out of their homes, with their families and faceless neighbor as well.
After a mutual decision to put an end to the never ending rumors, Dolly and Kenny decided to do a joint interview on Good Morning America in 2013. During the conversation, Parton repeatedly denied having any affair with Rogers, saying that she never had any feelings for him and that she still loves her husband after more than 50 years of marriage.
Kenny, on the other hand, claimed that he never thought about any relationship with Dolly.
Behind the camera
Whenever somebody becomes incredibly famous for one thing, it’s a nice surprise to find out what sort of lesser-known passions and hobbies they have. For Kenny Rogers, that hobby was photography.
Rogers loves the art of photography, finding immense joy in discovering interesting things to shoot – and relishes the ability to spot a moment, and capture its spirit and feeling in the form of a photograph. Rogers had even released 2 books of photography, titled ‘Your Friends and Mine’, and ‘Kenny Rogers’ America’.
A staunch companion
One thing the rich and famous are well-known for was a tendency to keep exotic pets. Given the wealth and extravagance of their lives, many celebrities feel drawn to animal companions more outside-the-box than your average cat or dog.
Kenny Rogers was no exception to this rule, having a pet that presumably causes frequent double-takes among guests to his home – namely, a goat. While an unconventional choice, the goat – named Smitty – had been said by Rogers to be an excellent companion, and a soothing presence in his life.
The lone star state
Kenny Rogers was a Texas native, having been born in Houston on August 21, 1938. His parents were Edward Rogers – who was a carpenter – and Lucille Lois – who was a nurse’s assistant. Now, if you think you have a big family Rogers might have you beat, being the fourth of 8 children!
It’s no wonder that Kenny decided to pursue a life in performance, as he must have been battling 7 other siblings for attention for most of his childhood.
The early days
The career that Rogers had led was vast and storied, having seen the rise and fall of numerous movements and stars over a career that lasted 6 decades. All the way back in 1957 Rogers was making waves, with his first minor hit – a song called ‘That Crazy Feeling’.
The song was released so early into Rogers’ career that he was still going by the name Kenneth! Although it was not a nationwide hit, the song proved very popular in his hometown of Houston.
Putting in the work
Far from making it easy instantly, Kenny Rogers had to put in years of work to reach the level of success that he did. During his early career he was working several jobs in the industry while trying to make it as a singer – working as a writer, session musician, and producer for other artists.
It was during this time that Rogers got to work with some of the most famous country singers of all time, including Mickey Gilley and the legend Eddy Arnold.
A solo career
After performing with The First Edition for nine years, Kenny finally re-embarked on his solo career – almost 20 years after he first released ‘That Crazy Feeling’. Rogers first album as a solo artist was called ‘Love Lifted Me’ and was released in 1976.
The album was a moderate success, breaking into the top 40 of the country charts. It was his next album, simply titled ‘Kenny Rogers’, that would catapult him into solo success, reaching the top of the country charts.
The reason for the success of Rogers’ second album was down to its second single, a country song called ‘Lucille’. The song tells the story of a man who meets a woman in a bar, and witnesses her dissatisfaction with the life she leads.
‘Lucille’ was a huge hit, reaching number 1 on the country charts and breaking into the top five of the Billboard Hot 100. It also hit the top ten in twelve other countries, and brought Kenny Rogers’ name to a worldwide audience.
Making it big
Rogers would go on to have several more successful albums, but it was in 1978, with the release of his sixth album, that he would find himself with a runaway hit on his hands. The album – called ‘The Gambler – was unbelievably successful, selling over 35 million copies worldwide.
It made Rogers a well-known name across the world, and transformed him from a successful artists to one of the biggest names in music. The album produced 2 hit singles – ‘The Gambler’ and ‘She Believes in Me’ – which further bolstered its success.
Working with legends
In 1983, Kenny Rogers released ‘Eyes That See in the Dark’, an album that he made with the help of Barry Gibb, one of the Bee Gees. Initially Rogers was only hoping for Gibb to help with one or two tracks, but Barry was intent on working on the whole album together.
The most well-known result of this collaboration was the single ‘Islands in the Stream’ – a duet with Dolly Parton that was a massive hit, and remains one of the most popular songs of both artists.
Although ‘Eyes That See in the Dark’ was a very successful album in the United States, it didn’t fare quite so well in the United Kingdom, not even cracking the top 40 of the album charts there.
In large part, this is because the record label were intent on having the album’s title track be released as the lead single across the Atlantic – as such the album generated much less momentum than it would have had ‘Islands in the Stream’ been the lead single.
One of the most lucrative opportunities for a musical entertainer was a residency headlining at a venue for a few years. As an immensely successful artist, Rogers was able to use his wealth to put on a residency for himself – buying the Grand Palace Theatre in Branson, Missouri, and headlining it from 1992-1995.
At a seating capacity of 4000, the Grand Palace is as large as some of Vegas’ most popular venues – making Rogers’ ability to simply buy and headline it even more impressive.
In 2000, Rogers’ released ‘Buy me a Rose’, about a man who tries to win his wife’s affection with lavish gifts, before realizing that she prefers simpler, more honest declarations of love. The song reached number one on the country charts, becoming Rogers’ first number one in 10 years.
In doing this, Rogers set the record for the oldest person to have a number one on the chart (at 62), a record he held for 3 years until Willie Nelson hit number one at the age of 70.
An unbelievable career
There are not a lot of people with careers as extensive and successful as Kenny Rogers. He’s come a long way from those first minor hits back in 1957 – working to become one of the most successful musical artists of all time.
Rogers had spanned several different genres and released albums with startling regularity until his retirement – putting out an incredible 65 albums and selling a mind-blowing 165 million records. If we’d managed such a feat, we’d be patting ourselves on the back right about now.
A sporting chance
In 2007, Rogers won appreciate from the strangest of sources, when the England rugby team made ‘The Gambler’ their unofficial anthem while competing in the Rugby World Cup. The team encountered the song after hearing one of their members playing it – becoming enamored with the tune and choosing it as their anthem.
Rogers was touched by the support of the team, sending them messages thanking them and cheering them on through the competition. How can you lose with Kenny behind you?
Many a singer and entertainer had done a TV special or two in their time, and Kenny Rogers was no different. In 2010 the singer recorded a show called ‘Kenny Rogers: The First 50 Years’ – a special designed to honor the impact of Rogers on the music industry, and his work to make country music popular with a mainstream audience.
As might be expected the show had some very special guests, with both Lionel Richie and Dolly Parton appearing to perform with the titan of country.
Sticking with a good thing
A lot of musicians will have a backing band that they like, but few are as dedicated as Kenny Rogers. While most singers aren’t too invested, and are willing to rotate or change their backing band according to what’s available, Kenny performed with the same backing band – a group called Bloodline – from 1976 until the end of his career.
Rogers’ motivation for sticking with Bloodline actually makes a lot of sense – he claims that he stuck with them all those years because they knew his songs already – which makes sense!
Showered with accolades
As might be expected from somebody with a career as long and successful as Rogers’ is, he’s been showered with awards over the decades. Rogers had won 3 Grammys, 5 Country Music Association awards, an incredible 11 Academy of Country Music awards, and many more!
As well as being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rogers had the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed upon him by the Country Music Association, and had also been inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame,
On the small screen
As well as being one of the highest-selling albums of all time, Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’ also found itself being made into a series of TV movies, starring Rogers as Brady Hawkes – a gambler in the old west.
The first ‘Gambler’ movie, ‘Kenny Rogers as The Gambler’, aired on April 8, 1980 and was a big success – doing well enough to garner 3 sequels. After the last film in the series aired in 1994, there were 3 books published in 1996 and 1998.
Never content to rest in just one medium – or even three – Rogers found his gambler persona finding new life on slot machines – which is about as apt as you can possible get to be honest.
The machines populate Vegas Casinos, which means that if you want to sink a couple of coins into a machine while looking into the friendly face of Kenny Rogers, you can! For a truly immersive experience you could even listen to ‘The Gambler’ while you played.
A family man
Never one to take the easy route, Kenny Rogers embarked upon one of the most taxing things possible while at the age of 66 – being a father. Already having 3 children, Rogers had twins in 2004 with his current wife Wanda Miller.
Despite the difficulties that come with having children at a somewhat more advanced age – Rogers had testified to being worn out by the sheer energy his twin sons have – Kenny was immensely happy at the birth of his sons, and had found raising them to be incredibly fulfilling.
Unfortunately, in March of 2020 the legendary singer passed away at the age of 81. The tragic passing affected both his family, his friends, and his million of fans all around the world.
While he’s no longer with us, his musical legacy will forever live on, and we will never forget Kenny Rogers for his wonderful music, good deeds, and lovely personality.