Following the death of Kenny Rogers on Saturday at the age of 81, country star Garth Brooks is sharing an emotional letter published to Billboard about his personal hero, and the impact "The Gambler" singer had on his life. Rogers, who died from natural causes on March 21, was the first major act Brooks ever opened for in 1989, and the 58-year-old Oklahoma native is looking back at what it was like working with him and the lessons learned from their time together.
"[He] became one of my heroes," Brooks admitted, after sharing how taking up the opportunity thanks to his manager, Bob Doyle, was a chance he could not miss."Just watching how he treated his band, his guys, everybody, they'd all been with him for 100 years. It was like, 'This is how you do it.' I'm really, really thankful that Bob was smart enough to tell me to get on that tour."
Brooks added that there was "no way" you could be around Rogers and not learn something, sharing how he was "one of the most successful artists" on Earth. "If you want to do record sales, look at 'The Gambler' and go, 'Oh, okay, you can sell that many?' Because I think that sold something stupid like 13 or 14 million. It sure showed all of us that country artists can do this as well."
Brooks adds when it came to entertaining, Rogers was just "amazing" thanks to his stage presence that was something in and of itself, an experience. The "Friends in Low Places" singer shares a story about Rogers' microphone that was attached with a cord because "that's what he felt comfortable with," disclosing that while the cord went to this wireless unit that went around the stage with him, he'd use it as a prop.
"If he would forget a word, he would look at the cord and push it around like his mic went out," Brooks wrote. "He'd put it out in the crowd. He used it like a musician would an instrument and so you watched him and you watched him closely. I can't think of anybody who taught me that much about entertaining other than Reba McEntire. Those two people were the ultimate entertainers and you learned every day from them."
Brooks goes on to share how much he "enjoyed how honest he was," adding how Rogers just "wasn't a fake person" and that "who you saw on the stage was who you saw in sweats offstage."
Brooks goes on to sing his praises, sharing how no matter what Rogers did, he was the "ultimate professional" and what he will be remembered for is the "same way" that he, too, wants to be remembered — "if that's even possible, because he was Springsteen," he wrote.
"He was Neil Diamond. He was entertainment. I was lucky, lucky, lucky just to get to be a page in that book," Brooks wrote in his letter.
Rogers died on Friday at his home, with his family breaking the news in a statement posted on social media early Saturday morning. His time of death was 10:25 p.m. Friday, with his family by his side. Rogers was "under the care of hospice" in the time leading up to his passing.
In the full statement, Rogers' family said they would only hold "a small private service" for the "Islands in the Stream" and "The Gambler" singer due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A public memorial will happen at a later date.
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