“There are only two ways you can compete in this business: you do what everybody else is doing and you do it better or you do something nobody else is doing and you don’t invite comparison,” says Kenny Rogers in Backstory: Kenny Rogers premiering tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern on GAC. Clearly the entertainment icon with a career spanning six decades knows what he’s talking about. The special re-airs October 3 at 12 a.m., October 6 at 10 p.m. and October 7 at 2 a.m. and 7 p.m. (all times Eastern).
As he prepared to release his first autobiography, Luck or Something Like It, Kenny sat down and talked with great candor about his career and personal life including his five marriages. Those who know him best – his wife, adult sons Kenny, Jr., and Christopher, Dolly Parton, Don Schlitz, Ken Kragen, Jim Mazza and others weighed in on the 73-year-old’s remarkable life.
Kenny grew up in Houston’s housing projects during the Great Depression. After attending a Ray Charles concert when he was 12, he knew what he wanted to do. “They laughed at everything he said, they clapped,” remembers Rogers. “That’s what I chose to do.”
From jazz combo the Bobby Doyle Trio to folk act the New Christy Minstrels to Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Kenny had some success in multiple genres before securing his place in country music. “I felt I had some credibility in country music,” he says of his move to Nashville in the Seventies. And he was correct. Hits like “Sweet Music Man,” “Lucille,” and “The Gambler” generated massive sales and by now Kenny had married fourth wife Marianne and had moved into what was then the largest private residence in the U.S., a 50 thousand square foot home in Los Angeles. “If I got it, I’m going to enjoy it. It was a great time in my life.”
Kenny had great success with duet partners like Lionel Richie, Sheena Easton and Kim Carnes but it was when then producer Barry Gibb suggested they make “Islands In the Stream” into a duet after they’d struggled with the song for several days, that Dolly Parton stepped in. “We were hearing each other through those headphones and it just resonated through your tissues,” recalls Dolly. “It was really an experience. I really thought our voices sounded great together.”
Kenny has been with fifth wife, 46-year-old Wanda, for 20 years and they are parents of twin sons. He continues to record and tours in the U.S. and abroad.