Actor-singer Kenny Rogers, the Grammy-winning balladeer who spanned jazz, folk, country, and pop with hits like "Lucille," "Lady," and "Islands in the Stream" and embraced his persona as "The Gambler" died Friday night. He was 81. He died at home in Sandy Springs, Ga., his representative tells the AP, adding that Rogers was under hospice care and died of natural causes. The Houston-born performer with the husky voice and silver beard sold tens of millions of records, won three Grammys, and was the star of TV movies based on "The Gambler" and other songs, making him a superstar in the '70s and '80s. Rogers thrived for some 60 years before he retired from touring in 2017 at age 79. Despite his crossover success, he always preferred to be thought of as a country singer. Rogers was a five-time CMA Award winner and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
A true rags-to-riches story, Rogers was raised in public housing in Houston Heights with seven siblings. His breakthrough came when he was asked to join the New Christy Minstrels folk group in 1966, which re-formed as the First Edition. After the group broke up in 1974, Rogers started his solo career and found a big hit with the sad country ballad "Lucille" in 1977, which crossed over to the pop charts and earned Rogers his first Grammy. Suddenly a star, Rogers added hit after hit for more than a decade. "The Gambler," the Grammy-winning story song, came out in 1978 and became his signature song, spawning a hit TV movie of the same name and several sequels. Over the years, Rogers worked often with female duet partners, most memorably Dolly Parton, with whom he performed "Islands in the Stream." Rogers' family is planning a private service "out of concern for the national COVID-19 emergency," per a statement. A public memorial will be held at a later date.
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