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.”

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. 

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.