Kenny Rogers passed away on March 20, 2020. This article was originally featured in the Spring 2019 edition of Growing Bolder Magazine.
Kenny Rogers Reflects on Old Friends and New Passions
Kenny Rogers is a country star, pop star, record producer, photographer, actor, entrepreneur, autobiographer, novelist and philanthropist. In his more than 50 years in the music business, he has sold more than 120 million records worldwide across a variety of music genres, including country, pop, gospel and soul. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, he’s recorded some of the most beloved country music songs of all time, including The Gambler, a song so popular it inspired five TV movies starring Rogers. Now 80, Rogers admits he may be slowing down physically; but creatively, he’s more passionate and engaged than ever.
You’ve been very open about your humble upbringings and the fact that you were born into poverty in Houston, Texas. When you were a child, you and your sister went to a show and it changed the course of your entire life. What happened?
When I was 10 or 11 years old, we went to a Ray Charles concert. I can still remember looking around that show and thinking to myself, “Wow, here is a guy doing things people love. They clap at every song he sings; they laugh at everything he says. Who wouldn’t want to do that?” Then, years later, Ray became a good friend of mine.
The music business is notoriously fickle. You’ve experienced some of the highest highs possible but you’ve also endured some down times. What helped you through those experiences? How did you overcome your obstacles?
My mom gave me a piece of advice when I was young. She said, “Son, always be happy where you. Never be content to be there; but if you’re not happy where you are, you’ll never be happy.” Even when I’ve had down points in my career, I was still making a living doing what I wanted to do, and it was better than where I came from.
You recorded a duet with your long-time friend Dolly Parton many years after your duet Islands in the Stream was a chart-topper. What was it like to work with her again?
It was such a touching experience to record the song You Can’t Make Old Friends with my friend, Dolly. That song was written about our lives and our relationship by Don Smith, the same guy who wrote The Gambler. We were singing the song in the studio, and I looked up, and Dolly had left her microphone, had come all the way around to my booth and put her arms around my neck and said, “Kenny, I want you to know something. I could never sing at your funeral.” I was like, ‘What?!? Are we assuming I’m going first? Is that what you’re saying?” But that is so Dolly. It was a very sweet moment in our lives and our career, and I’m thrilled about that experience.
What’s life like for Kenny Rogers in your 80s?
Well, I have no original working body part; but other than that, I’m fine! I keep going and I feel good. I just don’t get around as good as I used to. I’m very passionate about my work with the Kenny Rogers Children’s Center in Sikeston, Mo. When I first got involved with the Center in the 1970s, it was seeing 500 patients a year and struggling to make ends meet. Today, I’m proud to say we treat 5,000 children a year and the families are not charged anything. (Editor’s Note: Through its various therapy programs, the Kenny Rogers Children’s Center serves children with a variety of special needs and developmental delays, including prematurity, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, spina bifida, autism and more.)
What can the rest of us learn from your story?
I think I got my wisdom from my mother and my humor from my father. I think if you have a good sense of humor, you can overcome a lot of obstacles. If you can’t laugh at something, you’re going to be destined to stay there. I say no matter what hits you, it’s temporary if you let it be temporary. It’s permanent if you let it be permanent.
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