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Legendary country star Kenny Rogers has died at 81

Rogers’s career spanned six decades. He sold more than 100 million records worldwide.

Kenny Rogers performs in concert at Golden Nugget Casino on December 9, 2017 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Donald Kravitz/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Legendary country star Kenny Rogers died on Friday night, CNN reports. He was 81 years old.

In a statement posted to Rogers’s verified Twitter account, the Rogers family said, “Rogers passed away peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family.” The news comes two years after Rogers announced that he would be ending his planned farewell tour early, in 2018, due to “a series of health challenges.”

Rogers’s career spanned more than six decades. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013, with the organization citing his “distinctive, husky voice and laid-back sex appeal,” which he parlayed “into durable superstardom.” He was a three-time Grammy winner, and he had 120 hit singles and sold over 100 million albums worldwide. In 2018, his 1978 smash hit “The Gambler” was added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress, which archives songs that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Rogers was, in other words, an American institution.

Rogers began recording in the 1950s, first as a background member of various jazz and folk ensembles and then, in the 1960s, as a member of the folk-rock-country band First Edition. The group briefly went pop after the success of its 1967 psychedelic rock song “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In),” but as Rogers became more of a leader within the band, he guided them back toward a country sound. When the band split up in 1974, he embarked on a solo career as a country artist.

Country-pop was having a moment in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and Rogers was in the right place at the right time. In 1977, he had his first solo hit, “Lucille,” which won a Grammy and made Billboard’s pop and country charts. And over the next decade, Rogers would repeat that commercial success, releasing major country hits that also ruled the pop charts. He collaborated with Lionel Ritchie for 1980’s crossover hit “Lady,” and with Dolly Parton for 1983’s “Islands in the Stream.” When “The Gambler” became a hit in 1978, he built the cred into a series of successful made-for-TV movies.

As Rogers’s star faded through the 1990s and into the 2000s, he pivoted his career to publish books of photography and books for children and to open a chain of restaurants. He also continued to tour, and in 2015, he announced his plans to retire after a long farewell tour.

“I’ve been so lucky to have enjoyed such a long career and to have such amazing support from my fans and all who have helped me along the way, but there comes a time when I need to focus on spending time with my family,” Rogers said at the time. “My life is about my wife and my 11-year-old twin boys right now. There are a lot of things I want to do together with them to create some special memories. I don’t have a bucket list of my own … I have a bucket list of things I want to do with them.”

Dolly Parton posted a tearful video to social media on Saturday in tribute to Rogers. “I loved Kenny with all my heart,” she said. “My heart’s broken, and a big old chunk of it has gone with him today. And I think that I can speak for his family, for all his friends and fans, when I say that I will always love you.”

A statement from Rogers’s publicist says that out of concern regarding the national Covid-19 emergency, the family is planning a small private service. They look forward to celebrating Rogers’s life publicly with his friends and fans at a later date.

Update: This article has been updated to include Dolly Parton’s tribute to Rogers.

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