Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers are both renowned country singer-songwriters whose careers spanned several decades. Their musical relationship, friendship, and natural chemistry are cherished by fans to this day.
Though they first met in the 1970s when Rogers was a guest on Parton’s show, Dolly, they didn’t become friends right away. It wasn’t until they worked together in 1983 on the hit duet “Islands in the Stream” that the two found a connection.
They remained friends and collaborators for nearly 40 years. Kenny Rogers died of natural causes on March 20.
Here is what you need to know about Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s relationship.
1. The Duo’s Collaboration on “Islands in the Stream” was Bee Gees Barry Gibb’s Idea
In 1983 Kenny Rogers was working on an album and had hired Barry Gibb to produce it.
In Rogers’ 2012 memoir, Luck or Something Like It, he tells the story of working on “Islands in the Stream” with Gibb, who wrote the song with his brothers and fellow Bee Gees, Maurice and Robin.
According to The Atlantic, Rogers wrote, “I had worked on the song with Barry for at least four days, something I was not used to doing. I finally told him I didn’t even like the song anymore. Without breaking a stride he raised one finger in the air and said, ‘What we need is Dolly Parton.’”
As luck would have it, Parton happened to be in the same recording studio as Rogers in Los Angeles that day, and she agreed to collaborate on the song.
According to Rogers, “… Once she came in, that song was never the same. She lit it up and we became good friends from that point on,” Taste of Country reported.
2. In 2005 CMT Named ‘Islands in The Stream’ the No. 1 Duet of All Time
“Islands in the Stream” made it to No.1 on Billboard’s Hot 100s list in its 10th week on the charts and hit the top on the country music charts that same week.
In 2005 the duo performed the song for Country Music Television’s award show, where it was honored as the best duet of all time. It was the first time they’d performed together in 15 years.
Rogers and Parton received the SESAC award from Sony Music Nashville for “Islands In The Stream” in 2017, when it surpassed 500,000 digital units sold. Music Row reported, “The song has sold over 3 million physical copies and continues to be a fan favorite in the new modern download era.”
3. Why Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers Say They Never Dated
Parton told People, “We never did go there. There was always so much other stuff going for us. So much love and friendship, we were so compatible.”
“And she’s been married for 40 years,” Rogers said of Parton’s lasting relationship with husband Carl Dean.
“And he’s been married about 40 times! I couldn’t catch him between wives!” Parton joked of Rogers, who was married five times throughout his life.
4. Their Last Performance Together was in 2017 at a Concert Honoring Rogers
The friends’ last performance together was at the tribute show to Rogers, “Kenny Rogers: All In for The Gambler.”
Rogers told Rolling Stone in 2017 ahead of the performance, “Dolly is one of those rare people, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, she is everything you think she is and more. And that’s a rare thing to be able to say about people. Neither of us takes ourselves for granted, and we’re both kind of astonished as to what’s happened with our lives and our careers. We’re both very appreciative of it.”
Parton sang her song, “I Will Always Love You,” to Rogers that night, according to Biography.com, along with revising some of their other well-loved duets, including a song called “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” which Parton said was written by Rogers about their friendship.
The lyrics say, “It was me and you, since way back when / But you can’t make old friends / How will I sing when you are gone? / Cause it won’t sound the same / Who will join in on those harmony parts / When I call your name?”
In an interview with AskAnythingChat in 2017, Parton talked about how much both their friendship and music collaboration meant to her ahead of the upcoming farewell concert.
“Well, Kenny’s friendship means more to me than our hit records. We’re kinda like little soulmates,” Parton said.
Kenny, I love his singing, I love his voice and I never tire of hearing him sing, and I think our voices blend great so I’m really proud of the musical part of that as well. And ‘Islands in the Stream,’ I’m just really proud to be part of a classic like that.
But Kenny is just dear to me and I just can’t believe that we’re old enough for him to think about retiring, but I guess he’s a little tired of it and he’s done it all his life as well. But I’m just so proud that I get to be there with him to see him go out in fine fashion and I’m gonna give him all kinds of trouble that night, I’m sure.
5. Parton Tweeted an Emotional Tribute to Rogers When He Died
“I loved Kenny with all my heart,” she said in the video she posted. “My heart is broken and a big ol’ chunk of it has gone with him today.”
Rogers was 81 years old when he died. Parton is 74.