Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers
AFP

Country music legend Kenny Rogers has died. He was 81.

Rogers, who dominated the pop and country charts in the 1970s and 1980s and won three Grammys, passed away "peacefully" from natural causes, reports variety.com.

"Rogers passed away peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family," a representative for the singer said in a statement.

Due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, the family is planning a small private service with a public memorial planned later.

Back in 2015, Rogers had announced a farewell tour and kept it going through December 2017. In April of 2018, he announced that he is calling off the remaining dates, including a planned appearance at the Stagecoach Festival in California, due to unspecified "health challenges".

"I didn't want to take forever to retire," Rogers had said in a statement he released in 2018, adding: "I've thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to say farewell to the fans over the course of the past two years on 'The Gambler's Last Deal' tour. I could never properly thank them for the encouragement and support they've given me throughout my career and the happiness I've experienced as a result of that."

After establishing himself commercially via rock- and pop-oriented singles with his group the First Edition, the bearded, prematurely gray Rogers was launched into the top rank of crossover country artists with a string of singles.

His appealing and gritty voice propelled him to become a country icon, from 1977-1987. Two of them, his 1980 reading of Lionel Richie's "Lady" and his 1983 collaboration with Dolly Parton "Islands in the stream". He also worked with a number of other female vocalists, including Dottie West, Sheena Easton, Kim Carnes and Anne Murray.

Rogers' signature song "The Gambler" was added to the National Registry in 1978.

A special, "Biography: Kenny Rogers," had been announced by A&E earlier this month, set to air on April 13. The special is said to be largely built around footage from the all-star salute Rogers received in Nashville on October 25, 2017, just a couple of months before his final concert appearances.

Along with his music career, he started as an actor. His 1978 country chart-topper "The gambler" turned into five popular TV movies, while some of his other hits also inspired small-screen features. Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Country Music Association the same year.

Born and raised in Houston, he was the fourth of eight children in a poor family. He took to the guitar as an adolescent, and would sometimes perform with another aspiring local musician and future star, Mickey Gilley.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1966 when he joined the folk-pop unit the New Christy Minstrels, a group that also numbered such performers as Carnes, the Byrds' Gene Clark, "Eve of Destruction" vocalist Barry McGuire and the Lovin' Spoonful's Jerry Yester.

With Mike Settle, Terry Williams and Thelma Camacho, Rogers founded First Edition in 1967. Fronted by Rogers, the group notched two top 10 pop hits: "Just dropped in (to see what condition my condition was in)", and a version of Mickey Newbury's slice of pop psychedelia, and "Ruby, don't take love to town".

The First Edition's journey to fame began in the early 1970s, and Rogers signed a solo deal in 1976. He struck almost immediate pay dirt with "Lucille" -- the number became Rogers' first No. 1 country hit and reached No. 5 on the national pop chart. It also scored Rogers his first Grammy, for best male country vocal performance.

Rogers also partnered with longtime female star West, and the duo racked up three No. 1 country singles -- "Every time two fools collide", "All I ever need is you" and "What are we doin' in love". Other hit singles include -- Grammy-winning "The gambler" and "Coward of the county".

He got married five times. Rogers is survived by his last wife Wanda and five children.

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