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Kenny Rogers: The gambler takes the last country road

By Amos Kareithi | March 22nd 2020

If the world was one big stage and millions of adoring fans had their way, they would scream to the husky voiced musician with his silvery sideburns not to slam the door on their faces or take his love out of town.

But the gambler, like he had done on a number of occasions, would shrug his grey mane and announce it’s a fine time to leave them by taking the country road for he was not a coward of the county and head for the Islands in the stream.

On Friday, Kenny Rogers drifted away like a gambler in the train to nowhere, the deathly silence of the night he faded off to eternal sleep surrounded by his family, knowing well that he had dealt the right hand and now expected to rest in peace.

Living true to his prophetic gems of wisdom which populated most his hit songs, Rogers seems to have known when to quit the stage and concentrate on his family in his sunset days.

But the most poignant message is derived from his all-time favourite, Lady, a song which had been written by Lionel Richie but was rejected by his group the Commodores in 1980.


When Rogers heard about this rejection, he wondered why anybody would reject a song titled Lady. The words too are a reflection of the turmoil he had faced in his love life.  

Lady, for so many years I thought I’d never find you

You have come into my life and, made me whole

Forever let me wake to see you each and every morning

Let me hear you whisper softly in my ear

In my eyes I see no one else but you

There’s no other love like our love

Oh yes, girl I’ll always…

And indeed, when Rogers got hitched to Wanda Miller his fifth wife in June 1, 1997, he faced a lot of opposition from his father-in-law because he was only two years older than his in-laws.

He however triumphed and lived up to the prediction of Lady when he cooed,” Forever let me wake to see you each and every morning, Let me hear you whisper softly in my ear” up to his dying day.

Roger’s first wife was Jannie Gordon who he married in 1958, and divorced her two years later before landing in the arms of Jean Laverne Massey the same year, a marriage that lasted 36 months.

He married Margo Gladys Anderson in 1963 but the flame of their love was as fleeting as the Texan winds ultimately swirling away in 1975, culminating in a divorce.

Two years later Marianne Gordon, captured the 5’ 10½ feet tall icon to claim the tiara as the new Mrs Rogers but she too exited the stage in 1994 as dramatically as she had come. In total, Rogers has five children from his five wives.

There have been whispers and celebrity gossip about Rogers and another songs star Dolly Parton, partly fueled by the chemistry produced by their joint stage appearances when performing the songs they had recorded together.

Their coming together was by mistake.

For four days, Rogers had been singing Islands in the Stream which had been written by Barry Gibb of the famous Bee Gees for Marvin Gaye. Rogers had told The People Magazine in an earlier interview:

“And we had been singing this song in my studio in LA for four days. And I finally said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore. “And he said, ‘We need Dolly Parton.’

“I said, ‘Well, why not, you know?” And Ken Kragen, my manager said, ‘I saw her downstairs.’ I said, “Well, go get her.”

During his last performance in 2017 in Nashville where he paired with Dolly, to sing “Islands in The Stream” he explained that they never dated although they flirted a lot.

While Rogers claimed that the songstress had rejected him once, Dolly joked that they were like brother and sister and having an intimate affair would be like incest.

In another interview with BBC 2017, he explained what inspired his gamble for venturing into country music: “You can do what everybody else is doing and do it better - and I didn’t like my chances - or you could do something nobody else is doing, and you don’t invite co mparison.”

According to the BBC report, Rogers launched chicken restaurant chain Kenny Rogers Roasters (KRR) in 1991 which flourished for sometime before it spectacularly failed and filed for bankruptcy.

In five years, the food chain had more than 400 restaurants in US, Canada, the Middle East and Asia, but went under in 1998. At the time it only had a presence in Malaysian. Despite creating an empire worth $250 million and a big house boasting an 18-hole golf course which had hundreds of automated water sprinklers Rogers had also been through rough patches. 

Owing to his tumultuous love life leading to costly divorce settlements, he became broke when he was 30 and had to start all over again, in the process collectively releasing more than 70 albums, which have sold over 100 million records.

Unknown to many of his fans, Rogers who treated all his enterprises as business was an excellent photographer whose works have been compiled into books. In 1980, he also starred in a TV movie, Gambler based on his best selling song by the same title. The musician was also into horse and cattle breeding on his a 1,200-acre ranch in Georgia.

And like the gambler in his song, who knows when to run and never to the money while at the tables, when Rogers finally decide to quit performing in.... he said, “I didn’t want to take forever to retire,” Rogers said at the time. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to say farewell to the fans over the course of the past two years on ‘The Gambler’s Last Deal’ tour.”

The icon’s passing may have been overshadowed by the corona but his rustic, sometimes husky voice will continue dominating the airwaves for decades to come while his lyrics will forever drive lovers of country music for he was a “god” who used his voice and box guitar to mersmerise his worshipers, holding them captive. 

Long after the world sees off Rogers, some may be tempted to forget his exploits but his voice will haunt from darkness reminding those who loved him that indeed he had Something So Strong and taunt them, “ 

The more you refuse to hear my voice, The louder I will sing

You hide behind walls of Jericho 

Your lies will come tumbling

Deny my place in time, you squander wealth that’s mine

My light will shine so brightly it will blind you

Because there’s

Something inside so strong, strong...

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