Kenny Rogers recorded 65 albums, sold more than 165 million records, was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and sang more than 120 hit singles that were the top recordings in the country for a total of more than 200 weeks.
To be one of the best and most famous country music singers of all time, he probably had to:
• spend a lifetime being sleep deprived,
• spend many hours touring and sleeping in a bus,
• sing in smoke-filled rooms, and
• eat the food available on the road — the typical Western diet loaded with sugar, meat and fried foods.
His typical musician’s lifestyle brought him in contact with lots of women, and he was married five times. We do know from his autobiography that he avoided alcohol, which has felled many great popular singers. Rogers said that he watched his father self-destruct with drinking and vowed that would never happen to him.
I have not seen his medical records, but the tabloids reported that Rogers spent the last several years of his life crippled with severe back pain and suffering liver damage from a 25-year battle with a viral infection called hepatitis C. He also was said to have diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, which increased his risk for heart damage, and dementia. He spent the last years of his life in a remote Georgia community to get away from public view, cancelled all his public tours and concerts, sold off his assets, said his last farewells and planned his own funeral. His family said that he died of natural causes while in hospice care, on March 20, 2020.
Early Life and Career
Rogers was born in 1938, in poverty in a Houston housing project, to a mother who was a nurses’ assistant and a father who was a carpenter and an alcoholic. Rogers was the first member of his family to be graduated from high school. At age 18 and while still in high school, he started a band, The Scholars, and at age 20, he sang “That Crazy Feeling,” on American Bandstand, which got him a contract to record for Carlton Records.
In 1966, at age 28, he joined the New Christy Minstrels, a folk group, and at age 29, he was the lead singer in Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. They went big time with “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Reuben James,” and “Something’s Burning.” In his 40s, Rogers became a solo singer and recorded “Lucille,” which won a Grammy Award for best male country vocal performance (1977). Perhaps his best-loved song, “The Gambler,” became the basis for several movies and television shows, and through them he became an actor as well as a singer. He teamed with Dolly Parton for their famous duet, “Islands In The Stream.” He co-wrote his autobiography, Luck or Something Like It, and lent his name to a restaurant chain, Kenny Rogers Roasters.
In 2016, at age 77, he had to abandon his farewell tour, The Gambler’s Last Deal, because of poor health. He hosted his last concert in Nashville with the cream of country music talent: Linda Davis, Elle King, Little Big Town, Lionel Richie, Billy Currington, Lee Greenwood, the Flaming Lips, the Oak Ridge Boys, Justin Moore, Travis Tritt, the Judds, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton, Lady Antebellum, Idina Menzel, Crystal Gayle, Reba McEntire, Jamey Johnson, and Dolly Parton. On March 20, 2020 at age 81, he died in hospice care at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection from contaminated blood that damages the liver. It is now curable with daily pills taken for up to six months. The tragedy is that more than half of people with hepatitis C do not know that they are infected because they may have no symptoms whatever, so they are not diagnosed until after they have irreversible liver damage. That is the reason everyone should get a blood test for hepatitis C, even if they are apparently healthy. Risk factors include:
• work with blood products
• injecting or inhaling illicit drugs
• having sexual contact with an infected person
• having HIV
• getting tattoos
• receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
• receiving clotting factor concentrates before 1987
• receiving hemodialysis
• spending time in prison
Preventative measures include avoiding illicit drugs, avoiding multiple partners, practicing safe sex, and avoiding body-piercing decorations.
Symptoms may appear one to three months after exposure to the virus and usually last two to 12 weeks, or the infected person may have no symptoms at all. Symptoms include bleeding, bruising, fatigue, poor appetite, muscle aches, jaundice, itchy skin, swollen belly, swollen legs, weight loss, confusion, tiredness.
More than 30 percent of diabetics don’t know they have diabetes. Often their doctors reassure them that they are not diabetic because they have normal fasting blood sugar levels below 100 ng/mL. Since everyone’s blood sugar rises after they eat, and high rises in blood sugar can damage every cell in your body, many doctors now diagnose diabetes when a person has blood sugar above 145 ng/mL one hour after eating a regular meal.
Risk factors for diabetes include:
• excess belly fat even if you are not overweight,
• family history of diabetes,
• triglycerides >150,
• HDL cholesterol < 40 mg/dL,
• systolic blood pressure >120 at bedtime,
• a sedentary lifestyle,
• a diet full of sugar-added foods and drinks, fried foods, mammal meat and processed meats, and low in plants
The drugs given to diabetics can control the disease, but most cases of diabetes can be cured only by lifestyle changes. Lifestyle treatments include
• a diet high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans,
• avoiding sugar-added foods, fried foods, and mammal and processed meats,
• avoiding alcohol,
• exercising at least 30 minutes a day
If you have more than 2″ of fat to pinch near your belly button, lose weight until that excess belly fat is gone.
Popular Musicians Often Leave Us Too Soon
Lifestyle factors determine to a large degree how long you live, and we know that most famous musicians are exposed to many factors that increase their risk for dying too young. I have written about several of them:
We miss them all and are grateful that we can continue to listen to their wonderful voices.
Kenneth Ray “Kenny” Rogers
August 21, 1938 – March 20, 2020