The death of Kenny Rogers has many fans thinking of his long friendship with Dolly Parton. The country music star, who passed away at age 81, collaborated with Parton on some of his most famous songs. The duo’s musical partnership is legendary, but their friendship was even more special.
Rogers and Parton’s friendship can be credited to Barry Gibb, the Bee Gees singer who co-wrote the song “Islands in the Stream” with his brothers. While Rogers had met Parton in the past – his band, First Edition, appeared on her 1976 television variety show, Dolly! – they were not yet friends.
When Rogers hesitated to record a cover of “Islands in the Stream,” Gibb made the suggestion that he should perform the song as a duet with Parton. The dream collaboration magically came together.
“And my manager said, ‘I just saw her downstairs,’” Rogers told Taste of Country. “So I said, ‘Go get her and bring her back.’ So he brought her back in and once she came in, that song was never the same. She lit it up and we became good friends from that point on.”
The song, released on August 19, 1983, became a No. 1 hit all over the world and spawned one of the most iconic musical partnerships in history.
Rogers and Parton went on to record a Christmas album together, Once Upon a Christmas, in 1984. Their duet “Real Love” was released in 1985, and in 2013 they recorded “You Can’t Make Old Friends” as the title track for Rogers’ 27th studio album. Rogers even closed out his final stage performance with Parton by his side in 2017.
As they closed the “All in for the Gambler: Kenny Rogers’ Farewell Concert Celebration” at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena in October 2017, Parton asked Rogers if he was ready for their final performance of ” Islands in the Stream.” She told him there was no else with whom she’d rather sail away.
“How about me and you go out like rock stars?” Parton asked Rogers at the end of the concert.
The two singers then held their microphones out, dropped them on stage, and walked off arm-in-arm, according to USA Today.
While they were known as the perfect duet partners with incredible chemistry, offstage it was strictly business. Many fans wondered why Rogers and Parton never dated — the two were married to other people.
In 2013, Rogers told the Huffington Post that he and Parton never had an affair and just “flirted with each other for 30 years.” He also revealed that although they were close friends, he never even had Dolly’s personal phone number and would contact her via fax.
In a 2017 radio interview with CMT, Parton said that her friendship with Rogers meant more to her than their hit records, and she described them as “soulmates.”
“We always sing that [“T for Texas, T for Tennessee”] to each other,” she said. “I love his singing. I love his voice. I never tire of hearing him sing. And I think our voices blend great, so I’m really proud of the musical part of that as well.”