Sandy Rogers still can’t believe that her beloved brother is gone.
Kenny Rogers, the Grammy-winning singer who spanned jazz, folk, country and pop with hits such as “Lucille,” “Lady” and “Islands in the Stream” and embraced his persona as “The Gambler” died on March 20 at age 81.
The Houston-born performer passed away in his Sandy Springs, Ga., home, representative Keith Hagan told The Associated Press. He was under hospice care and died of natural causes.
The country superstar is now the subject of a two-hour documentary on A&E titled “Biography: Kenny Rogers,” which was filmed before his death. The special is part of a series of programs on country legends. It will explore Kenny’s rise to stardom, as well as feature footage from his 2017 farewell concerts and interviews with those who knew him best, including Dolly Parton.
Rogers, who participated in the documentary about her brother, spoke to Fox News about what it was like growing up with the singing sensation, his final years and what she really thinks of those rumors involving Parton, 74.
Fox News: What compelled you to participate in this “Biography” special?
Sandy Rogers: Well, I would do anything for him. He has done so much for me personally and my family, more than anybody else. We’ve been wanting to help him with this project and we did. We were taught to help each other so there was no question.
Fox News: What was it like growing up with Kenny Rogers of all people for a brother?
Rogers: My twin and I are much younger than him, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time with him. I just remember him going to the kitchen, getting a jug of milk and drinking out of it *laughs*. We remember him doing that very vividly. I remember he would have us come to Las Vegas and visit him during spring break That’s when we really got to know him as a person.
Was there ever a moment you realized your brother’s music was special?
Rogers: You know, I think it was the first concert of his we went to. We knew he could sing, but we had no idea how just so many people would come to hear him sing. You saw him on stage and you just knew he was going to be somebody one day.
I remember it was at Sam Houston State [University]. He got a Greyhound bus for us. They picked us up from our house — I think I was in junior high at the time. But I just thought the whole experience was pretty cool. I remember when the show was over he started bowing and thanking everybody. And then my dad walked out there and he started taking bows. He said, “Dad, this is my show.” *laughs* But it was so funny.
What’s your favorite memory of Kenny Rogers?
Rogers: Oh, we have so many. I remember my twin Randy and I would go with him to the recording studio. He let us do background on one of his songs. I remember we were even suggesting how to make the song better — could you believe that? But we did just that… When it was all over, we started asking for royalties *laughs*. Kenneth would say, “I can’t believe you’ve only been in here for 30 minutes and you’re already asking for royalties.” That became an ongoing joke for us, one that I will remember forever.
How did fame impact your relationship with Kenny Rogers in any way?
Rogers: He opened up a whole new world for us. We got to go to places we wouldn’t have dreamt of going. We got to meet so many people we wouldn’t have met — all because of him. Singers, movie stars — you name it. It was all because of him.
I remember Dottie West used to come to my mom’s house in the country when she and Kenneth were touring. My mother loved her and would take her fishing. Well, Dottie would come up to the pier with heels on! Mama used to say, “You can’t do that, you need to put on other shoes!” I mean, who wears heels on a pier to go fishing? Only Dottie. I think out of all the people we’ve met, she is probably the one that paid a lot of attention to my mom. We just loved her to death.
What did you think of his “Gambler” persona?
Rogers: I thought it was pretty cool. There’s a disc jockey we all grew up with and he said, “I have never known a singer who could take one song and make five movies out of it.” But we loved that song. That and “Lucille.” My mom’s name is Lucille but the song wasn’t written for her. I remember Kenneth called one day and said, “Sandy, what do you think of this song?” I said, “Oh, that doesn’t sound right to me. I don’t think you’ll do good with that.” Well, he made 20 million off of it. So here I am eating crow.
What are some fun facts about Kenny Rogers that would surprise fans today?
Rogers: His humor. He was such a jokester. That never left him. I have two other sisters and he called every one of us his baby sisters… I remember he would call me and if I wasn’t there, he’d leave a message and said, “All right, if you’re shacking up with somebody, I need to meet him.” Typical brother. I remember I sent him a church picture of me. He called me and said, “Thank you for that picture. But Sandy, I thought I saw that picture in Playboy. But seriously, I put it out in the yard, out in the garden. And nothing’s there anymore! And to top it off, everything’s dead.”
When we were helping him with this special, we went to visit him. He said, “Look here, I’ve got that picture still. I could look at it every day.” I’m thinking to myself, ‘He ain’t gonna do that.” But he was such a jokester.
We were a family and we knew we were special. When I say that, I don’t mean better than anybody. I just mean the way we were brought up, we had such a special bond. But boys will be boys. They will aggravate me for sure… I remember one time I asked him, “There’s this guy I kinda like a lot.” As a family, we would all go to see his shows. So I told him, “Can you sing ‘Crazy’ for me?” And he did. He didn’t say why he was singing it but was looking at me and this guy. Two weeks later he said, “What happened?” Well, nothing, he’s gone. He said, “That didn’t last long, did it?”
In [some shows] he would introduce my mom and I. He would have us stand up. And then he would say, “OK guys, any of y’all single? I have a sister that’s looking.” And then all these guys were whistling, hollering and waving. The spotlight was right on me. I just went to myself, “Oh my God, Lord have mercy.” He was protective of me, but such a typical brother. He also used to say, “If my sister ever gets married, she’s going to have a bigger wedding than Princess Diana.” I would tell him, “There’s no use for everybody to be miserable. I’m not getting married.” He ended up putting that in his book. He [joked], “I think my sister had the right idea on that.”
People continue to speculate about his relationship with Dolly Parton. What do you make of those rumors?
Rogers: Nothing. I mean, he loved her to death. But we never thought anything of it, to be honest with you. It was just him finding somebody he could sing with and make everyone feel a special way. And they had that. Dolly is just like a little child, a china doll. She met all of us in the family. By the time she got to me, she said, “Kenny, how many Rogers are in this family? I’ve met people for two days!” She was really cute and very sweet.
What were Kenny’s final years like?
Rogers: I remember he said one year, “I’m going to retire next year.” And then that year came and he didn’t. I don’t think in a sense that he really wanted to retire. He just figured he needed to and spend some time his [wife] Wanda and the boys. I know when we were filming this A&E special, he was doing pretty well. I remembered I had my hair colored and I asked him if he liked it. He said, “Why didn’t you do it before?” Well, it wasn’t in style *laughs*. But he always remained very sweet.
What do you hope audiences will get from this special?
Rogers: I don’t want anybody to forget him. I know fans just can’t get enough of him, and that is good. He was good to everybody. He was a jokester, but he helped everybody. That’s how we were raised to be and he never forgot that. He did an amazing job. He never saw himself as this icon. He would always say, “I’m not a great singer, but I like to entertain people.” And he was a very good entertainer. I just can’t say enough about him. He’s my brother. I love him. We all loved him. Sometimes I don’t deal with this very well. I still can’t believe he’s gone, but I know I’ll see him again. We’ll see him one day in heaven.