Country's King

Kenny Rogers returns with a rose in his teeth.

The very success of Kenny Rogers, one of the most popular country singers of all time, also undermined that musical genre. Rogers is revered for megahits such as "Lady," "We've Got Tonight," "You Decorated My Life" and "Islands in the Stream." However, at his peak in the late '70s and early '80s, Rogers' success caused country music to abandon its traditional sound in a quest for crossover hits.

Singer and bass player Rogers had only a modestly successful career until 1978. A musical chameleon, he first turned up playing rockabilly bass in the mid 1950s. In 1959, he took up jazz for a period. In 1966, he became a folk singer, joining the New Christy Minstrels. There he met guitarist Mike Settle and formed The First Edition. In 1968, they scored country's first and only psychedelic hit, the Mickey Newbury song "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)."

With his smooth voice, the band quickly morphed to Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. By their breakup in 1976, they had had a string of message hits, such as "Something's Burning," "Tell It All, Brother" and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town."

Rogers became a full-time solo crooner, scoring with "Lucille" and "Coward of the County." In the wake of the Urban Cowboy craze, he moved country music to a new level with "The Gambler," drawing both country and pop audiences.

Rogers continued to score big through pop associations: "Don't Fall in Love With a Dreamer" with Kim Carnes, "We've Got Tonight" with Sheena Easton, and "Islands In the Stream" with Dolly Parton (produced by Bee Gee Barry Gibb), as well as soloing on the Lionel Richie song "Lady."

When the hits dried up, Rogers diversified into movies and fast food, and country music regained its twang with New Traditionalists like Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis and Emmy Lou Harris.

Rogers also helped nurture the Eagles back in 1970, bringing Don Henley's country-rock band, Shiloh, to Los Angeles. Today, he's a backer for the country-styled boy band Marshall Dyllon.

Recently celebrating his 63rd birthday, Kenny Rogers has recorded 59 albums and sold more than 100 million records. A perennial favorite on the concert circuit, especially in Las Vegas, he returned to the charts in 1999 with his 22nd number-one hit, "Buy Me a Rose."