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Kenny Rogers sharing the hits, the laughter on farewell tour

Kenny Rogers performs onstage during his final world tour at the Civic Arts Plaza on June 30, 2016 in Thousand Oaks, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

To paraphrase one of his greatest hits, country music legend Kenny Rogers knows when to walk away.

And that’s precisely what the 77-year-old Grammy winner is doing via The Gambler’s Last Deal, his final world tour, which arrives July 24 at Ravinia.

“I will miss the people and the appreciation and the respect they’ve shown me,” Rogers said in a media conference call from Atlanta, earlier this month. “Throughout my career I’ve been to some extraordinary places and I will miss that as much as anything. But mostly I will miss the comedy I do. The sense of humor I try for when I perform. When I get a great response, that’s so rewarding. I will miss making people smile, making people laugh … the interplay between me and the audience.”

Throughout his 55-year career, Rogers has elicited quite a response from his audiences, whether it was via his concerts, albums (he’s sold more than 120 million of them) or a slew of successful made-for-TV movies. He’s played everywhere from Texas honkytonks to England’s massive Glastonbury Festival to Bonnaroo. He was among the 45 singers featured on the iconic multi-artist “We Are the World.” He’s an accomplished photographer as well, having published several books of his work (he shot an official portrait of Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady), and the author of numerous short stories. His self-penned Christmas musical, “The Toy Shoppe,” enjoyed an off-Broadway run and has toured the world.

When it comes to the music, his songs have crisscrossed myriad genres, from folk to pop to country. Hits such as “Lady,” “Sweet Music Man,” “The Gambler” and “Lucille” propelled his career as the decades went by (not to mention his success with The New Christy Minstrels and the First Edition). “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” was a testament to a generation. “In the ’60s [music] was very aggressive, very anti-war, so I think there was a need out there for people to express their disgust with the war. And ‘Ruby’ was a great way to do that,” Rogers mused.


With: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; Linda Davis

When: 7 p.m. July 24

Where: Ravinia Festival, 200 Ravinia Park, Highland Park

Tickets: $27-$70


He also scored big with duets such as “Islands in the Stream” (with his old pal Dolly Parton, also heading to Ravinia this summer as part of her first tour in 20 years), “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer” (with Kim Carnes) and “We’ve Got Tonight” (with Sheena Easton). It’s that part of his music legacy that Rogers said he would miss the most.

“I’ve really enjoyed the duets,” he said. “I think everybody thinks they sing the best they can every night. It’s like running 100-yard dash. You run it as fast as you think you can. Then they put someone alongside you who runs faster and you inevitably run faster. And I think that happened with me. I think I found out I could sing a lot better when I was singing with someone else. And I thoroughly have enjoyed that.”

Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers perform their hit duet “Islands In The Stream” for the CMT’s “100 Greatest Duets” concert. (PRNewsFoto)
Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers perform their hit duet “Islands In The Stream” for the CMT’s “100 Greatest Duets” concert. (PRNewsFoto)

Sounding genuinely humbled by all the success and accolades, Rogers was adamant this was the right time to hang it all up.

“I always said I would do this until I started embarrassing myself,” he said. “I have a bad knee and it drives me crazy not to be able to walk around and do something I want to do. I can do some of it but not all of it. I’m much more accepted when I’m entertaining than necessarily when I’m singing. So I constantly try to entertain people and make them laugh. I found that even if people don’t like your music, if they’re laughing at least they’re having a good time. That’s always kinda been my ace in the hole. …

“It used to be you went out and did concerts to promote your albums. Now you do albums to promote your concerts. And it’s a totally different feel. The reason is people download singles; they don’t get the whole album anymore, and I think that’s very tragic. …. I believe that music is the great memory-maker of all time. You remember the songs you heard that you loved, where were you when heard them.

“I have 11-year-old twin boys, and I had other kids and I didn’t spend time with them when they were young, and I just decided I wanted to do this,” he continued. “We’re going to Europe and we went to Africa on safari. It was such a great experience [for his family]. I thought now was the time while I can still travel and take them with me. … Some day they can say, ‘My dad took me there.’ I’m 77, I don’t have much time to spread. [Chuckling] I’d really like the chance to do a farewell tour before I die.”