5 Surprising Facts About Kenny Rogers

Early on in his career, Kenneth Rogers was advised by television talk show host Larry Kane that he should go by “Kenny.” Kenneth was uneasy about the idea … until Larry introduced him by his new moniker and the girls went wild. “I thought, ‘I could live with that,'” Rogers told Rolling Stone in 2014.

On March 20, 2020, the entertainment world lost one of its true legends when Kenny Rogers passed away from natural causes at the age of 81. Over the course of six decades, Rogers showed off his talent on the stage and beyond: in addition to being a singer, Rogers was an actor and (as any Seinfeld fan knows) a fast food restaurateur. While there’s a lot you probably do know about the Houston native, we’ll gamble you don’t know everything.

1. Kenny Rogers was a jazz bassist and a hippie rocker.

Long before he recorded the country hits he’s known for, including “Lucille” and “Lady,” Kenny Rogers cut his musical teeth playing stand-up bass in a jazz group, The Bobby Doyle Trio, in the early 1960s. After they disbanded in 1965, Rogers grew out his hair, pierced his ear, and sported a pair of pink sunglasses as the frontman for the rock ‘n’ roll group The First Edition (which later became known as Kenny Rogers and The First Edition).

The First Edition’s psychedelic pop song, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” became a hit in 1968. Fans of the Coen brothers’s The Big Lebowski (1998) may recognize the tune from The Dude’s bowling dream sequence. Yes that’s Hippie Kenny on vocals!

2. Kenny Rogers and Don Henley used to be roommates.

In 1970, Rogers discovered Don Henley’s pre-Eagles band, Shiloh, and produced their self-titled debut record. “It’s not like he was in the mud somewhere and I walked up,” Rogers explained of how he “discovered” the band. “But I found his group and took them to L.A. and they lived with me for six months.” Shortly thereafter, Henley “got a chance to go with the Eagles and he said, ‘I can't do it unless you give me my publishing back.’ I was just trying to help him so I said, ‘Sure, I'll give it back to you.’ I'm very proud of that. Producing is something that I used to be really good at but never great.”

3. Kenny Rogers was a pro-level tennis player.

“I played tennis for 10 years, eight hours a day every day and developed a national ranking while I was on the road playing with Wimbledon champs,” Rogers told Rolling Stone. In 2013, he told BBC Radio 5 that tennis was a near-obsession with him—so much so that he had a couple of tennis pros travel with him on the road. "We just flew from city to city and we'd get into town and we'd play the pro and the assistant pro at one of the clubs. And I developed a very good doubles game," Rogers explained. "I heard at one time, I thought I saw it, that I was ranked one notch above Björn Borg in the doubles." But, Rogers added with a laugh, Borg "only played one doubles match, so..." Though the stats on Rogers' matches are limited, he did indeed have an ATP listing

4. Kenny Rogers dabbled in interior design.

In 2003, Rogers formed Kenji Design Studio, an Atlanta-based interior design firm, with business partner Jim Weinberg. The company went on to score some major contracts, like its bid to design all of the graphics, common spaces, model units, and employee uniforms at the Trump Towers Atlanta.

For his part, Rogers admitted that his design skills were really self-taught: “I’ve done 20 houses of my own, so I come to this from a totally emotional standpoint,” Rogers told the Chicago Tribune in 2007. “Jim does all the work. He brings me in as a second set of eyes. We're yin and yang … I tend to think very outside the box. Jim pulls me back.”

5. Kenny Rogers was a big fan of MenWhoLookLikeKennyRogers.com.

Rogers loved MenWhoLookLikeKennyRogers.com, the quirky (though now defunct) Kenny Rogers tribute site that was voted one of the top 100 websites of all time by Yahoo! Its purpose? To provide its users with, among other things, a “How to Look Like Kenny” guide, tips for spotting Kenny lookalikes, and a Kenny Hall of Fame.

“I think that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” Rogers told CMT News of the site in 2004, before sharing that he actually “tried to get a hold of some of the original pictures so I could use them on stage.” Before launching the site, its creator asked for Rogers’s blessing: “I said, ‘As long as you do it in good taste and don’t go down a road that I think is not really what I’m about, then I don’t care how much you make fun of me. That doesn’t bother me. But don’t get into bad taste, because then I’d have to talk to you about it.’ They seem to have really stayed pure.”

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Wa Wa Wee Wa: The Origin of Borat's Favorite Catchphrase

Wa wa wee wa! Sacha Baron Cohen is back in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020).
Wa wa wee wa! Sacha Baron Cohen is back in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020).
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

When Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was released in 2006, a new audience was exposed to Borat Sagdiyev, a “journalist” portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen who had made frequent appearances on the comedian’s Da Ali G Show.

Soon, in our country there was problem: People mimicked Borat’s catchphrases, "very nice" and “wa wa wee wa,” incessantly. The latter phrase was used to denote surprise or happiness on Borat’s part. While some may have assumed it was made up, it turns out that it actually means something.

Wa wa wee wa is Hebrew, which Cohen speaks throughout the film and which helped make Borat a hit in Israel. (Cohen is himself Jewish.) It was taken from an Israeli comedy show and is the equivalent of the word wow. Reportedly, the expression was popular among Israelis, and they appreciated Cohen’s use of it.

The original Borat also sees Cohen singing a popular Hebrew folk song, “Koom Bachur Atzel,” or “get up lazy boy,” among other Hebrew mentions. It remains to be seen how much of it he’ll be speaking in the sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. It premieres on Amazon Prime Friday, October 23.

[h/t The Los Angeles Times]