“Rogers se fue en paz, en casa. Murió de causas naturales, rodeado por sus seres queridos”, informó su representante a través de un comunicado
La estrella estadounidense de la música country Kenny Rogers, con una exitosa carrera musical que se extendió durante seis décadas e incluyó hits como The Gambler y Coward of the county, falleció el viernes por la noche a los 81 años, anunció su familia el sábado.
“Rogers se fue en paz, en casa. Murió de causas naturales, rodeado por sus seres queridos”, declararon en un comunicado difundido a la prensa.
La familia indicó que se organizará una ceremonia de despedida íntima, sin que esta decisión tenga relación “con la situación de emergencia nacional provocada por el Covid-19”, la pandemia que azota al mundo.
Kenny Rogers dejó una marca indeleble en la historia de la música de Estados Unidos y “sus canciones le granjearon el cariño de los amantes de la música y tocaron la vida de millones de personas en todo el mundo”, dijo su representante Keith Hagan en el comunicado.
“Uno nunca es consciente de cuánto ama a una persona hasta que ya no está”, dijo su amiga cantante y colaboradora de toda la vida, Dolly Parton.
“Tuve tantos años y momentos maravillosos con mi amigo Kenny, pero por encima de la música y el éxito, lo amé como el hombre y maravilloso que fue”, agregó.
La estrella country Blake Shelton dijo por su lado que “no puedo expresar en Twitter el impacto que Kenny Rogers, tanto el artista como el hombre, tuvo en mí. Siempre fue muy amable y divertido. Descansa en Paz, Gambler”, en alusión a su famosa canción.
Dos tipos de canciones
El cantante, mundialmente conocido también por éxitos como Lucille o Islands in the Stream, ganó tres veces un Grammy y vendió decenas de millones de discos en todo el mundo.
“Nunca me consideré un gran cantante, pero sí tengo cierta manera de contar historias”, dijo al Irish Examiner in 2013.
“He tenido mucha suerte en encontrar muchos grandes temas que han tenido el poder de permanencia y han permanecido en los corazones”, agregó.
“Hago dos tipos de canciones”, dijo a NPR en 2015. “Están la canciones que cuentan una historia y tienen un significado social, o las baladas que dicen lo que cada hombre querría decir y lo que cada mujer querría escuchar”.
Una de esas baladas es Lady, escrita por Lionel Richie y editada en 1980, que fue un éxito instantáneo.
El álbum The Gambler (El apostador), editado en 1978, fue un enorme hit internacional con varios discos de platino y pasó a ser su tema más emblemático.
Rogers protagonizó el filme The Gambler, basado en su canción, y le gustaba bromear diciendo que no era un buen apostador. “Aprendí hace mucho tiempo que no puedo ganar suficiente dinero como para excitarme, pero puedo perder lo suficiente como para deprimirme”, dijo a NPR en 2015. “Por eso no juego”.
Ofreció en su último concierto en Nashville en octubre de 2017, donde compartió escenario con su amiga cantante y colaboradora de toda la vida Dolly Parton para una última presentación de Islands in the Stream.
En abril de 2018 anuló las últimas fechas de su gira de despedida debido a problemas de salud. “No quería demorar mi retiro una eternidad”, dijo Rogers.
“Disfruté muchísimo esta oportunidad de decir adiós a mis fans a lo largo de los últimos dos años”, indicó, agregando que “nunca podría agradecerles apropiadamente por el aliento y apoyo que me dieron a lo largo de mi carrera”.
Nacido en Houston, Texas, en 1938, hijo de un carpintero y una enfermera, Rogers comenzó su carrera a fines de los años 50 y pronto entró a los mundos del rockabilly, el jazz y otros géneros que luego llevó al estilo country.
Rápidamente se convirtió en una estrella. Sus éxitos lideraron en 24 ocasiones la lista de los más escuchados y ganó seis Country Music Awards.
Rogers saltó a la fama gracias a sus dúos con Dolly Parton y sus apariciones en algunas películas y programas de televisión, como The Muppet Show (El show de los Muppets).
Sus baladas melodiosas y sus abundantes giras le convirtieron en un artista muy querido por el gran público, que también se rindió ante sus reinterpretaciones de las clásicas canciones de Navidad.
Casado cinco veces, le sobreviven su esposa Wanda y cinco hijo, incluyendo mellizos.
Crossover country superstar Kenny Rogers dies at 81
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.
“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. 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, as a standup bass player.
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).” Rogers and First Edition mixed country-rock and folk on songs like “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” a story of a Vietnam veteran begging his girlfriend to stay.
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.
“I think the best that any songwriter could hope for is to have Kenny Rogers sing one of your songs,” said Schlitz, who also co-wrote the other Parton-Rogers duet “You Can’t Make Old Friends.” “He gave so many career songs to so many of us.”
Schlitz noted that some of Rogers’ biggest hits were songs that had been recorded previously, but his versions became the most popular. “The Gambler” had been recorded six other times before Rogers and “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” by Mel Tillis, was also recorded by other artists before Rogers.
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. Richie said in a 2017 interview with the AP that he often didn’t finish songs until he had already pitched them, which was the case for “Lady.”
“In the beginning, the song was called, ‘Baby,’” Richie said. “And because when I first sat with him, for the first 30 minutes, all he talked about was he just got married to a real lady. A country guy like him is married to a lady. So, he said, ‘By the way, what’s the name of the song?’” Richie replies: “Lady.”
Over the years, Rogers worked often with female duet partners, most memorably, Dolly Parton. The two were paired at the suggestion of the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb, who wrote “Islands in the Stream.”
“Barry was producing an album on me and he gave me this song,” Rogers told the AP in 2017. “And I went and learned it and went into the studio and sang it for four days. And I finally looked at him and said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore.’ And he said, ‘You know what we need? We need Dolly Parton.’ I thought, ‘Man, that guy is a visionary.’”
Coincidentally, Parton was actually in the same recording studio in Los Angeles when the idea came up.
“From the moment she marched into that room, that song never sounded the same,” Rogers said. “It took on a whole new spirit.”
The two singers toured together, including in Australia and New Zealand in 1984 and 1987, and were featured in a HBO concert special. Over the years the two would continue to record together, including their last duet, “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” which was released in 2013. Parton reprised “Islands in the Stream” with Rogers during his all-star retirement concert held in Nashville in October 2017.
Rogers invested his time and money in a lot of other endeavors over his career, including a passion for photography that led to several books, as well as an autobiography, “Making It With Music.” He had a chain of restaurants called Kenny Rogers Roasters and was a partner behind a riverboat in Branson, Missouri. He was also involved in numerous charitable causes, among them the Red Cross and MusiCares, and was part of the all-star “We are the World” recording for famine relief.
By the ’90s, his ability to chart hits had waned, although he still remained a popular live entertainer with regular touring. Still he was an inventive businessman and never stopped trying to find his way back onto the charts.
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. The family is planning a private service “out of concern for the national COVID-19 emergency,” a statement posted early Saturday read. A public memorial will be held at a later date.