Bearded, amiable American singer/actor Kenny Rogers launched his professional career as a member of the New Christy Minstrels, then first rose to fame as a member of the country-pop group the First Edition. After several years of hits like "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" (as well as popular syndicated TV series Rollin' on the River), the First Edition broke up in 1974. Rogers had some lean years immediately after the split, at one point making ends meet by promoting a correspondence school guitar course. The outlook became brighter in 1976 when Rogers recorded his first solo hit, "Love Lifted Me," which he followed up with the even more popular ballad "Lucille." He regained his following with a dozen TV specials and several duets with equally renowned female country artists. In 1980, Rogers made his TV-movie debut with The Gambler (1980), an agreeable Western based on one of his more successful songs ("You gotta know when to hold 'em/know when to fold 'em...etc."). The Gambler scored an immediate ratings coup, inspiring sequels over the next decade, the best of which was The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991), which had the added drawing card of guest appearances by several popular TV cowboy stars of days gone by. Rogers also pleased the crowd with the made-for-TV Coward of the County (1981), a dramatized elaboration of another of his top-selling songs. Less successful was Kenny Rogers' starring theatrical feature, Six Pack (1982), which proves that having six cute kids onscreen doesn't make you a Disney-quality hit.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Sold more than 120 million records worldwide.
- Scored countless country and pop hits during the 1970s and '80s, including "The Gambler," "Lady," "Lucille" and "She Believed in Me."
- Influences include Ray Charles, whom he saw in concert when he was 12.
- Sang in a church choir and with glee clubs during school.
- Played in a rockabilly band, the Scholars, during high school; and pursued a solo career after graduation, even appearing on American Bandstand in 1957 in support of the modest hit "That Crazy Feeling."
- Played bass with the Bobby Doyle Trio, a jazz combo, for a time in 1959.
- Joined the New Christy Minstrels in 1966 after auditioning over the telephone.
- Left the New Christy Minstrels in 1967 with several other members to form the First Edition, whose first hit, "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," was written by singer-songwriter Mickey Newbury, an old high-school buddy.
- Moved to Nashville after departing the First Edition in 1974.
- Duet partners have included Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton, Dolly Parton and Dottie West.
- Named the "Favorite Singer of All Time" in a 1986 PM Magazine-USA Today poll.
- Has published several books of his photographic work.
- Involved with several charities, including the Kenny Rogers Children's Center and the Athens Area Homeless Shelter.