Kenny Rogers was a country music legend, earning dozens of awards and honors over the years, including 13 American Music Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards, and three Grammy Awards. On March 20, he passed away in hospice care surrounded by his loved ones, the Rogers family announced early on March 21. Here’s what you need to know about his death.
Rogers Died of Natural Causes
In a statement, Rogers’ family said, “The Rogers family is sad to announce that Kenny Rogers passed away last night at 10:25PM at the age of 81. Rogers passed away peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family.”
Sandy Springs, Georgia, is where Rogers called home. He had been in retirement for several years after a farewell tour in 2017. At the time, he told ET Canada that he had been thinking about retiring for about a year prior and he finally decided it was time.
“It was about a year ago [that I decided it was time to stop performing] because my mobility is so bad and it’s no fun to go out there and limp around,” said Rogers, adding, “I never dreamed of being bigger. I always dreamed of being happy where I was, you know? And I was very lucky because I didn’t set such high standards for myself that I would be disappointed when I didn’t reach them. … My life, I take what it’s given me and it’s given me much more than I ever dreamed it could.”
But in 2018, he was forced to cancel his farewell tour before it ended, telling ABC News in a statement via his rep, “Kenny Rogers has been working through a series of health challenges. His doctors fully expect the outcome to be great, but they have advised him to cancel all performances through the end of the year to focus on recuperation.”
Rogers added in his own statement, “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. I could never properly thank them for the encouragement and support they’ve given me throughout my career and the happiness I’ve experienced as a result of that.”
2. He Previously Battle Bladder Cancer
The Washington Post reported at the time of Rogers’ death that his career “wound down in 2017” as he started having health problems, including “a diagnosis of bladder cancer.” And in May 2019, Radar Online reported that Rogers was preparing for the end, saying farewell and planning his own funeral, because, in addition to the bladder cancer, he had also battled hepatitis C, liver disease and back pain.
A friend of the family told the website, “He’s a lot sicker than he’s ever let on to the public — or even to his friends.”
Rogers was indeed hospitalized around the time Radar Online reported on his health, but a representative for Rogers denied that he was in such bad shape, saying in a statement, “Kenny was recently admitted to a local Georgia hospital and treated for dehydration. Rogers will remain there to complete some physical therapy to get his strength back prior to discharge. He appreciates the concern and well wishes he has received from his fans and can assure everyone he plans on sticking around through the years to come.”
3. Rogers is Survived By His Wife and Five Children
Over the course of his life, Rogers was married five times and had five children. His first marriage was to Janice Gordon when he was just 20 years old. They were married for two years and had a daughter, Carole Lynne. He was married to his second wife, Jean, from 1960 to 1963; they had no children together.
Rogers’ third wife was Margo Anderson, whom he married in October 1964. They were together for 12 years and had one child, a son named Kenny Rogers Jr. In 1977, he married Marianne Gordon. They were together for 16 years and had one child, a son named Christopher. Then in 1997, he married his fifth wife, Wanda Miller. They were together until his death. In 2004, they welcomed identical twin sons, Jordan and Justin.
In a 2012 interview with Reuters, Rogers was asked about a previous statement where he called music his “mistress” and said that “she’s a difficult mistress for a wife to compete with.”
He explained, “When I became driven and selfish I was so intent to follow my life that it cost me. I was gone so much from some of my marriages that there was a disconnect. And this may seem like an absurd statement, but every woman I married, I really loved when I married her. And I don’t blame them for the marriage falling apart. I blame myself and my chosen field of music. That’s why I say that music is a mistress because you can’t wait to get out there to it, and usually, the mistress wins in a situation like that. That’s kind of what happened to me.”
4. The Singer Will Be Honored in a Private Memorial
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, the Rogers family is planning a small, private memorial to honor the late country singer. A public celebration of his life will be held at a later date.
One person who won’t be performing at the public memorial is Rogers’ longtime friend and collaborate Dolly Parton. In a 2017 interview with Southern Living, Rogers was asked to share his favorite memory of Parton and he told a hilarious story about how she said she would not sing at his funeral.
She came up behind him, gave him a hug and said, “Kenny, I think you should know. I could never sing at your funeral.”
“I went, ‘So we’re assuming I’m going first?'” he said with a laugh. “But I love her for that. You never know what she’s going to say, but it always comes from love.”
5. But Rogers’ Is Being Remembered in Other Ways
But Rogers is being honored all over the airwaves right now. On April 5, the CBS ACM Presents: Our Country special had a Rogers tribute from Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley, and Darius Rucker; on Monday, April 6, AXS TV aired a pair of his concerts; on Wednesday, April 8, CMT is airing the CMT Giants Kenny Rogers: A Benefit for MusiCares special that will raise money for the MusiCares Coronovirus Relief Fund; and on April 13, A&E was already planning on airing its Biography: Kenny Rogers special, which chronicles his rise to stardom.
In a statement on Rogers’ website, his wife Wanda wrote, “In his final days, surrounded by family, Kenny felt so much love and peace. It’s so special for our family to see that love continue with this posthumous celebration of his life. These past few months have taught us that life is so precious, and it’s more important now than ever to take a few moments to pause and reflect on how truly blessed we all are and have been. We hope that by sharing his story and music, and some stories about him, we can honor his legacy and help give back to an organization near and dear to his heart, MusiCares.”
“The resilience and strength of the country music community is heartwarming,” added Debbie Carroll, Vice President, Health and Human Services MusiCares. “Our deepest gratitude to the Rogers Family for designating MusiCares as the beneficiary of these efforts. Their support will help the thousands of music professionals in need of assistance with rent, utilities, food and other basic necessities. I’m proud to call Nashville home and I’m so fortunate to be a member of this community.”
The CMT GIANTS Kenny Rogers: A Benefit For MusiCares special airs Wednesday, April 8 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CMT, then will encore on MTV Live on April 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT and again on CMT on April 11 at noon ET/PT.
Biography: Kenny Rogers airs Monday, April 13 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on A&E.
All donations made through MusiCares.Org/KennyCares or by texting “KennyCares” to 41444 go to benefit the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.