Kenny Rogers, country music star, dies aged 81

Representatives of Rogers' family said the singer died peacefully at home from natural causes

Kenny Rogers performing at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois, US in July 1981.
 Kenny Rogers performing at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois, US in July 1981. Photograph: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Kenny Rogers, the American country music star with hits popular across the world, has died of natural causes at the age of 81 at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

His husky voice and down-home narrative style won him three Grammy awards and put him at the top of the American music business for more than four decades. The tracks he made famous, such as Lucille and Islands in the Stream, have been karaoke standards for almost as long.

Rogers grew up on an impoverished federal housing estate in Texas. He joined a number of bands in his youth, including Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, before he made it big as a solo artist in 1978.

He is the 10th best-selling male artist in the American charts and had successful collaborations with several major stars including Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, who he duets with on the Bee Gees' song Islands in the Stream. Thirty-five years ago he took a central part in the recording of the charity single We Are the World in support of famine relief.

Two other key crossover hits were Coward of the County and The Gambler, first released in 1978 as the title track of an album. The latter unexpectedly became the theme tune for the England rugby team in the 2007 World Cup.

As a result of his renewed fame, he played the "legends slot" at Glastonbury festival in 2013, where he performed The Gambler twice.

The singer, who has been mourned by fans this weekend on social media, once summed up his success with mainstream audiences by explaining that the traditional lyrics to his songs "say what every man wants to say and that every woman wants to hear".

The actor and producer William Baldwin expressed his sorrow in a tweet: "I know what I'll be doing with my next few days in quarantine. Thank you Kenny Rogers for your incredible gift to unite us through your amazing music."

Many tributes have quoted the words of a verse in his song The Gambler ending "cause every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep".

Rogers married five times and had five children. His wife since 1997, Wanda Miller, together with the rest of his family have announced that because of the viral pandemic Rogers' funeral will be a small and private affair.

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