Kenny Rogers, gambling again
October 7, 1999
By Mary Jo DiLonardo
(CNN) -- Kenny Rogers has done it all. He's reigned as a king of country and pop, as a rotisserie-chicken magnate and as a punch line to many jokes.
But the frosty-haired Gambler keeps plugging away. "There's a certain stature to survival, to just being around for a long time," Rogers says with a laugh during an interview before a Las Vegas show. "Everybody hears about you eventually."
Most recently, they've heard Rogers on his May release, "She Rides Wild Horses" on Dreamcatcher, the label and management company he owns in part.
After three decades and nearly five dozen albums, Rogers is hip again. At 60, he was able to push his way back onto the country charts -- now crowded with artists who hadn't been born when Rogers originally made it big. He did it with the sweet single "The Greatest," a simple story about a kid and a baseball. The release went to No. 1 on Country Music Television's video countdown, exposing Rogers to a new generation of country fans.
"It's so funny what this song did," Rogers, now 61, says. "I went to a movie the other night and when we came out there were a bunch of kids -- around 14 or 15 years old -- with their hats on backwards and sloppy clothes. They were so excited to see Kenny Rogers. They had heard the music before but it wasn't cool until now."
The song and the video did a lot to change the demographics at Rogers' concerts too. At a recent show in Atlanta, his current home, a smattering of Generation X-ers mixed with the mostly middle-age crowd. When Rogers performed "The Greatest," two teen-age girls immediately jumped to their feet, cheering and gyrating.
"The skew of the audience has probably dropped 10 years," Rogers says. "Older people don't have the spontaneity and the energy. You mix in 15-percent young kids and the older people enjoy the show more."
Tech ... no
The show itself is hardly cutting-edge. There are no lasers or fancy sets, just a fog machine and some colored spotlights. And Rogers is more of a storyteller than a singer. He banters with the audience between songs, spinning tales and reminiscing. It looks and sounds like an old-time country show.
His one concession to changing times is his trademark facial hair. The Santa Claus beard has been replaced with a bushy, silver goatee.
And when Rogers sings, there's a comforting familiarity to that husky voice. From "The Gambler" and "Lucille" to "Through the Years," the hits just keep coming.
Rogers has 20 No. 1 hits, from "Lucille" in 1977 to "Make No Mistake, She's Mine" in 1987, a duet with Ronnie Milsap. Many of Rogers' songs have crossed over to the pop charts, with "Lady" and "Islands in the Stream," a duet with Dolly Parton, making it to No. 1 on both charts.
He last hit the charts in 1991 with "If You Want To Find Love," which reached No. 11.
Rogers has more than 45 statuettes and plaques, including four Grammys and 11 People's Choice Awards. He has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, starred in all five "Gambler" TV movies and has performed off-Broadway.
He married for the fifth time in 1997, to Wanda Miller, and has published several books of photography while owning Kenny Rogers' Roasters.
But Rogers says he's nowhere near satisfied.
"When I was really hot," he says, "I made the statement that there's nothing more sad than an 'ex-anything.' That means your life has peaked and that's what I think we all fear. There's nothing more disappointing than to be a non-factor.
"I don't want to retire and be some guy who rides off into the sunset."
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