March 27, 2020, - 3:03 pm

That Time I Met Kenny Rogers & Why It Was Weird

By Debbie Schlussel

If you’re like me, you’re sick of hearing about Coronavirus 24/7. So, I thought I’d tell you about that time I met singer Kenny Rogers, who passed away last week at age 81. Even though I was a semi-fan, it was weird. And here’s why. . . .

It was 1999, and I was doing my first national network television appearance (unless you count appearances on CNN). I was in Los Angeles to do ABC’s “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher.” I was on with the late Joan Rivers, Alan Dershowitz (who was a shameless liberal and jerk then as he is now–despite some conservatives’ eagerness to lionize him), and singer Edwin McCain, who at the time had a couple of hit songs. It was just after the Grammy Awards, and several musicians were in town.

After taping the show, Edwin McCain invited me and a friend to the L.A. Dodgers game where he and his band were VIPs. We accepted and took a stretch limo to Dodgers Stadium, where Dodgers PR staff ushered us to the VIP section and gave us all bags filled with some nice Dodgers swag (including a Dodgers AM/FM radio). Then, we were all invited to go out onto the field to meet the man who was about to sing the national anthem . . . Kenny Rogers.

I was excited because, even though I’m not really into country music, I always thought Kenny Rogers was very talented, I loved his husky singing voice, and, even though I don’t usually like ballads, I liked his hit “Through the Years” and his and Sheena Easton’s (she seems to have disappeared) cover of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight.”  (I always found his most well-known duet and much bigger hit with Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream,” grating and annoying, and they played it over and over and over again.) I also liked his biggest hit, the classic “The Gambler.”

But when we were led onto the field and were taken to meet him, it was weird.  I looked up and the man whose hand I was about to shake (yes, you were still allowed to shake hands back then) looked like NOT Kenny Rogers.  I asked the Dodgers PR staffer, “Is that really Kenny Rogers?  It doesn’t look like him at all.”  I didn’t recognize him. He was extremely skinny and his eyes looked different, like he’d obviously had plastic surgery on them.  The staffer explained to me that Rogers, who I never thought was very overweight, had not long ago gotten gastric bypass surgery.  It dawned on me that the “natural” and “down to Earth” ethos we think of as characteristic really isn’t so.  Not even for the men.  Kenny Rogers apparently got as much plastic surgery as his friend and frequent duet partner Parton.

Rogers was nice and sang a great National Anthem, but even his rendition wasn’t the same as his usual singing.  Maybe it was in my head, but it felt weird. (This was in the days before selfies, so I don’t have a pic.)

In the years since, I’ve come to learn that at least another thing about him was showbiz smoke and mirrors.  While he sang “Through the Years,” a song about faithfulness and commitment to one romantic partner through the years, he was actually on wife number four (of five total) when it was released in 1982, so he actually didn’t stay “through the years” with anyone (although he spent several years with each of his last three wives).  I guess it should be no surprise because that’s the story of many country-to-pop stars of his era and he didn’t actually write that song.  It was written by two Jewish guys, Steve Dorff (father of actor Stephen Dorff) and Marty Panzer.

Still, his personal life and plastic and weight-loss surgeries aside, I’ll always be a fan.  Rogers was a tremendous talent whose hits spanned decades and genres.

And even if his own life didn’t match the songs, I’ll never forget that golden voice and smooth vocal delivery. Kenny Rogers, Rest In Peace.

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10 Responses

Debbie, I saw him during those years and his look was kind of frightening. The ballad “lady” is my favorite. Hope to see more of your thoughts on any subjects.

Richard D GERYAN on March 27, 2020 at 4:52 pm

He really did overdo the plastic surgery!

MomInMinnesota on March 27, 2020 at 5:53 pm

A few of the people I used to work with , Worked his concert at The Plant city strawberry festival. They said he was an asshole. Said he wanted all the cops unarmed and they were not to look at him. They told him to f off and he changed his tune.

jeffrey samberg on March 27, 2020 at 9:30 pm

Boy I’ve missed you. This article was welcomed after such a long time. Stay safe.

Santiago Perez on March 28, 2020 at 2:44 pm

Thank you for sharing that story. I had the pleasure of seeing Kenny in concert twice with my late mother. I loved his music, and he had a great sense of humor. Mom lost interest in him after his phone sex scandal came out. I agree about the plastic surgery. There is so much pressure in show business to stay young and slim, but Kenny’s eye surgery made him unrecognizable. It reminded me of Jennifer Grey’s plastic surgery.

He enjoyed the company of many women, no doubt. His personal life does not matter to me. I loved Kenny, and will always listen to his music. Rest In Peace, Kenny.

Jean on March 28, 2020 at 2:51 pm

Miss your thoughts and comments!

Anastasia Buyes on March 28, 2020 at 4:30 pm

Living in Vegas I have some sick stories that I won’t repeat. I really got turned off by him big time

Dee smith on March 28, 2020 at 5:07 pm

hi, thank you, i saw him long ago in Billings Mt, in a hocky arena but we had front row seats by Center Stage, he had a young lady i think named Carly as back up, she had a beautiful voice but never went anywhere w it. that was before all his surgery, but he had the most wonderful voice, thank you Debbie

teresa bacon on March 28, 2020 at 5:34 pm

Thank you for the Coronavirus break, although now is an advantageous time to catch up on many issues.

Your insight into those aspects of sociological manifestations and influences on society and then into Kenny Rogers himself makes for worthy reading.

Phil Lipofsky on March 29, 2020 at 10:17 am

I’v missed you a lot. You are one of my favorites

PHILLIP LEMKIN on March 31, 2020 at 2:12 pm

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