By Phil Helsel, NBC News
Kenny Rogers, the country musician behind such hits as ‘The Gambler’ and ‘Lady’ over a six-decade career, has died at the age of 81, his family announced early Saturday.
“Rogers passed away peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family,” according to a statement from his management firm, SKH Music.
His family plans a small private service due to the coronavirus outbreak, the statement said.
Rogers is well-known for hits like ‘The Gambler’, ‘Lady’, ‘Islands in the Stream’, ‘Lucille’, ‘She Believes In Me’, ‘Through the Years’ and many other hits.
The three-time Grammy winner and county music icon Dolly Parton were frequent collaborators and paired to make some of country music’s most enduring duets, including ‘Islands in the Stream’, ‘Love is Strange’, ‘Real Love’ and ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’.
Rogers had 24 number-one hits over his career and is a six-time County Music Association winner. He had Grammy awards and was nominated 19 times.
Rogers announced in 2015 that after spending more than 50 years in the business, he planned to retire and told NBC’s ‘Today’ then that he was saying goodbye.
“I’ve done this long enough,” the Texas native had said, adding that he wanted to spend more time with his children.
The entertainer was inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013, the same year he was awarded the County Music Association’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.
Born in Houston on August 21, 1938, Rogers garnered national attention with ‘That Crazy Feeling’. He formed the band The First Edition and sang on ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’.
After the group broke up, Rogers started his solo career and found a big hit with the sad country ballad ‘Lucille’, in 1977.
He found more success with ‘Love Or Something Like It’, ‘Sweet Music Man’, ‘The Gambler’ and ‘Every Time Two Fools Collide’, as well as hits including ‘We’ve Got Tonight’.
He recorded ‘Lady’, which was written by Lionel Richie, which saw success across different genres.
He moved beyond music to become the star of TV movies based on ‘The Gambler’ and other songs, making him a superstar in the ’70s and ’80s.
Despite his crossover success, he always preferred to be thought of as a country singer, The Associated Press reported.
“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 said 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.”
The Country Music Association tweeted Saturday morning that: “Country Music has lost the great Kenny Rogers, who has forever left a mark on Country Music’s history. His family and friends are in our thoughts during this difficult time.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott expressed his condolences and noted that Rogers was a recipient of the Texas Medal of Arts: “The Houston born singer is a music legend and will be sorely missed,” the governor tweeted.
Rogers told The Arizona Republic newspaper in 2016 that “I’ve accomplished everything and more than I set out to do” but he wanted to spend more time with his older children whom he did not spend as much time with them and he regretted it.
Rogers wrote a memoir, ‘Luck or Something Like It’ that came out in 2012.
“I hate making excuses. I wrote in my book that when you’re struggling and trying to make it, there’s a fine line between being driven and being selfish.
“And I think I crossed that line a couple times and I just don’t want to do it now,” Rogers told the Republic.
“Will I miss the business? Absolutely. I’ll miss the faces of the people that are out there and the laughs and smiles but not as much as I would miss my boys,” Rogers said.
He is survived by his wife, Wanda, and four sons.
While Rogers’ family is planning a small service because of the coronavirus pandemic that is affecting large parts of American life, they do plan to honor him more publicly at a time not yet announced, SKH Music said.
“They look forward to celebrating Kenny’s life publicly with his friends and fans at a later date,” the statement said.