Kenny Rogers was no doubt one of the greatest singers and performers of our time. He was a gambler, a cowboy, an actor, a songwriter, and a dedicated student of the music industry. What most people may or may not know about him is that he was also a true gentleman. He always had a smile on his face and a kind word for others.
The first time I met Kenny Rogers was on a photo assignment when I was a 25 year old up-and-coming photographer who had a lot to prove. The shoot was backstage at one of his concerts in the early 1990s at the Sunrise Musical Theatre in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. I was doing a merchandise and marketing photo shoot of him for his restaurant chain, “Kenny Rogers Roasters Chicken.” He wanted to be photographed in jeans and a white tee shirt, nothing fancy. He insisted on no flashy wardrobe and no hair and make-up artist. He was a real dude! I was not necessarily a fan of his genre of music or style back then but that quickly changed after getting to meet and work with him.
I was told by his management that I had only about 10 minutes with him (including set-up), so make it count and work fast as he would be very pressed for time and getting ready to go on stage. I was really nervous and felt rushed. I had difficulty with my backdrop because there was no room to set up limbo poles or anything else to hold up my backdrop in the dressing room where we would be doing the shoot. I actually had to tape my backdrop directly onto the wall, but it kept falling down! True to his nature, no matter how pressed he was for time, he didn’t rush me and told me, “Don’t worry about it! Take your time.”
Once we were all set and I was finally ready to shoot, I asked him to do a couple of poses for me, “Look up to your left, look over my right shoulder and straight on the camera please.” As I was delivering my instructions I couldn’t help but notice that he was ignoring what I was saying, looking past me, seemingly at someone or something else! I immediately said, “Mr. Rogers, can you please stay focused on the camera.” He looked at me and in a very calm Kenny Rogers voice said, “Please call me Kenny, as there’s another more popular Mr. Rogers out there. And, I’m only looking over your shoulder because a friend of mine is making faces at me!” I turned very quickly to chastise the person who was taking his attention away from me, and the three minutes I had left to photograph him, and it was none other than Sir Elton John, who was there to attend his concert.
They both got quite a chuckle at my expense, then went on to tell each other how great it was to see one another, exchanged family best wishes, and Sir Elton then wished him well on the show. As I stood by patiently until Kenny was ready to shoot, I remember thinking to myself, “Who doesn’t belong in this conversation?” The answer was obvious! Me!
After they said their good byes, Kenny gave me all the time I needed, and as I recall, he even went on stage a little late in order to finish our shoot. Kenny held up thousands of fans to uphold his commitment to me. That’s a gentleman!
In the years that followed, I have photographed over a hundred athletes, celebrities, and iconic personalities. None were more patient, professional, and kind than Kenny Rogers was that day. He will be sorely missed, not just by his millions of fans around the world and other iconic musicians like Elton John, but by a now over-50 photographer who himself became more patient and understanding by just having spent a little time with Mr. Rogers.
If you liked this article, check out Celebrity Deaths Part 1!