5 Surprising Facts About Kenny Rogers
Early on in his career, Kenneth Rogers was advised by television talk show host Larry Kane that he should go by “Kenny.” Kenneth was uneasy about the idea … until Larry introduced him by his new moniker and the girls went wild. “I thought, ‘I could live with that,'” Rogers told Rolling Stone.
Today—120 hit singles, 120 million records sold, three Grammys, 24 number-one hits, three photography books, five marriages, more than 20 acting roles, and 30 years of flirting with Dolly Parton (both claim it never went further than that) later—Kenny Rogers is still driving audiences wild. And he shows no signs of slowing down. While there’s a lot you probably do know about the Houston native, who turns 77 years old today, we’ll gamble you don’t know everything.
1. HE WAS A JAZZ BASSIST AND A HIPPIE ROCKER.
Long before he recorded the country hits he’s known for, including “Lucille” and “Lady,” Rogers cut his musical teeth playing stand-up bass in a jazz group, The Bobby Doyle Trio, in the early 1960s. After they disbanded in 1965, Rogers grew out his hair, pierced his ear, and sported a pair of pink sunglasses as the frontman for the rock ‘n’ roll group The First Edition (which later became known as Kenny Rogers and The First Edition).
The First Edition’s psychedelic pop song, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” became a hit in 1968. Fans of the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski (1998) may recognize the tune from The Dude’s bowling dream sequence. Yes that’s Hippie Kenny on vocals!
2. HE AND DON HENLEY USED TO BE ROOMMATES.
In 1970, Rogers discovered Don Henley’s pre- Eagles band, Shiloh, and produced their self-titled debut record. “It’s not like he was in the mud somewhere and I walked up,” Rogers explained of how he “discovered” the band. “But I found his group and took them to L.A. and they lived with me for six months.” Shortly thereafter, Henley “got a chance to go with the Eagles and he said, ‘I can't do it unless you give me my publishing back.’ I was just trying to help him so I said, ‘Sure, I'll give it back to you.’ I'm very proud of that. Producing is something that I used to be really good at but never great.”
3. HE WAS A PRO-LEVEL TENNIS PLAYER.
“I played tennis for 10 years, eight hours a day every day and developed a national ranking while I was on the road playing with Wimbledon champs,” Rogers told Rolling Stone. In 2013, he told BBC Radio 5 that tennis was a near-obsession with him—so much so that he had a couple of tennis pros travel with him on the road. "We just flew from city to city and we'd get into town and we'd play the pro and the assistant pro at one of the clubs. And I developed a very good doubles game," Rogers explained. "I heard at one time, I thought I saw it, that I was ranked one notch above Björn Borg in the doubles." But, Rogers added with a laugh, Borg "only played one doubles match, so..." Though the stats on Rogers' matches are limited, he does indeed have an ATP listing.
4. HE DABBLES IN INTERIOR DESIGN.
In 2003, Rogers formed Kenji Design Studio, an Atlanta-based interior design firm, with business partner Jim Weinberg. The company went on to score some major contracts, like its bid to design all of the graphics, common spaces, model units, and employee uniforms at the Trump Towers Atlanta.
For his part, Rogers admitted that his design skills were really self-taught: “I’ve done 20 houses of my own, so I come to this from a totally emotional standpoint,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “Jim does all the work. He brings me in as a second set of eyes. We're yin and yang … I tend to think very outside the box. Jim pulls me back.”
5. HE’S A BIG FAN OF MENWHOLOOKLIKEKENNYROGERS.COM.
Rogers loves MenWhoLookLikeKennyRogers.com, the quirky Kenny Rogers tribute site that was voted one of the top 100 websites of all time by Yahoo! Its purpose? To provide its users with, among other things, a “How to Look Like Kenny” guide, tips for spotting Kenny lookalikes, and a Kenny Hall of Fame. Though the site is not currently accepting photos of any new Kenny doppelgängers, there are plenty of them already on the site to browse through.
“I think that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” Rogers told CMT News of the site, sharing that he actually “tried to get a hold of some of the original pictures so I could use them on stage.” Before launching the site, its creator asked for Rogers’ blessing: “I said, ‘As long as you do it in good taste and don’t go down a road that I think is not really what I’m about, then I don’t care how much you make fun of me. That doesn’t bother me. But don’t get into bad taste, because then I’d have to talk to you about it.’ They seem to have really stayed pure.”