Well-known singer and songwriter Kenny Rogers died on March 20, 2020. In the lead-up to the anniversary of his death, many reflected on their relationship with him. Among them was country icon Dolly Parton, who maintained a lifelong friendship with the late Rogers. She spoke about their decades-long relationship, the music they made together, and grieving his loss.
Although each singer produced popular songs in their own right – Parton with works like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You,” and Rogers with “The Gambler” – the pair also collaborated on numerous musical hits. Their first work together was “Islands in the Stream,” written by the Bee Gees, which appeared on Rogers’ album Eyes That See in the Dark. It was an incredibly successful duet that paved the way for future collaborations.
Their next release, on October 29, 1984, was a full Christmas album titled Once Upon a Christmas. As with the previous single, the work was successful, although the success of the individual songs varied. It did win Top Selling Album at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards. They produced “Real Love” only a year later, but it wasn’t met with nearly as much success as their previous work, as well as “Love is Strange” in 1990.
A lifelong friendship
As their professional relationship blossomed, so did their personal one, beginning with that very first song they recorded together. Rogers recalled later in life, “Since the day [Dolly] walked into the room to do ‘Islands in the Stream’ we have had, I think, a very special relationship.” This is also what served as the inspiration for their final duet, “You Can’t Make Old Friends.” It was written on their behalf in 2013, inspired by the close friendship that they had maintained through the years.
In the coming years, Rogers knew that he would be retiring from performing. He put together one last show, All in for the Gambler: Kenny Rogers’ Farewell Concert Celebration, and he invited Parton to perform with him one last time. Although they were no longer working on new music, the two artists remained friends until Rogers passed away in 2020.
Parton was one of the many celebrities to share her goodbye publicly, writing, “You never know how much you love somebody until they’re gone. I’ve had so many wonderful years and wonderful times with my friend Kenny, but above all the music and the success I loved him as a wonderful man and a true friend. So you be safe with God and just know that I will always love you, Dolly.”
Remembering Kenny Rogers
In an interview with People in 2023, Parton opened up again about this loss. She said, “I miss him so much. I’ve lost so many wonderful people in my life in the last few years. But Kenny — he was very, very dear and special and I never get tired of hearing us sing, all the years that we were on stage together (…) I never got tired of Kenny’s voice.” She also talked about their final song together, “You Can’t Make Old Friends.”
Parton expressed how glad she was that they recorded it when they did, as Rogers retired from singing only a few years later due to his health. She also revealed that no matter how much she loves the song, she, “can’t hardly sing it anymore,” because it reminds her of her late friend. Despite the sadness she still feels over his loss, Parton asserted, “He’s up there singing. I know that.”