The Gambler has finally decided to fold ’em. After 60 years of touring, Kenny Rogers is retiring from the road. The 78-year-old country star, who has been a regular at NYCB Theatre at Westbury for several decades, will perform his final Christmas show, “The Gambler’s Last Deal: Christmas & Hits,” on Friday, Dec. 23, when he will say goodbye to Long Island fans.
Rogers spoke with Newsday about raising twin 12-year-old boys, details about his current show and the bond he shares with his audience.
Why did you decide to make this your last tour?
I’ve got some physical handicaps, and I tell the crowd about that with some good humor. If people laugh, they are having a good time. I’m 78 years old. At that point, everything seems to go wrong. I’ve had a knee replacement, so it’s hard for me to walk and stand up. But the people have been incredibly supportive.
What are your retirement plans?
I have identical twin boys who are 12 years old. They asked me, “Dad, what are you going to do when you retire?” I said, “I’m going to come home and spend all my time with you.” They both said, “Oh, no.” I think I’m more excited about it than they are. They are sweet boys, and I love them and thank God for them every day. They give me a purpose.
What can fans expect on this last go-round?
This is the best show I’ve ever done. The show is split up into three segments — it’s kind of a linear look at my life and career. It starts with older hits from my band the First Edition, we do a Christmas segment, then launch into my solo hits. There’s a big moment I do at the end of the show where I talk about all the people who have played with me and all the people I’ve met. It brings up a lot of mixed emotions.
Do you find you are more energized because it’s the last tour?
People treat me differently, and my reaction to them is different. Like the song says, I want to go out in a “Blaze of Glory,” so you have to put out the extra effort. When it’s appreciated as much as it is, it makes me want to do it.
Which songs are closest to your heart?
I love the ballads. We do “Through the Years” into “You Decorated My Life,” followed by “She Believes in Me.” I always wanted to sing songs about things every woman would like to hear and every man would like to be able to say.
You have played NYCB Theatre at Westbury for many years. What memory do you have from the venue?
I love the people, but it’s hard to walk down that aisle, then get back up! But it’s been a great place for me to work and where we’ve finished our Christmas tour every time for over 30 years, so it’s special.
How has it been saying goodbye to your fans every night?
It’s been great and extremely flattering. At the end of each night they really give me a tribute in every city without exception. I see people out there who have followed me all of their life. The fact that it is all going to be over is very upsetting to them. I love and respect them for it. I appreciate it and don’t take it for granted.
In 1991 you opened a chain of chicken-themed restaurants, Kenny Rogers Roasters. Where did that idea come from?
John Y. Brown Jr., who ran Kentucky Fried Chicken, has been my friend for years. He came to me with a proposal. I figured, why not? The food is excellent — the chicken, the bread, the corn. I’m very proud of it.
Looking back, what stage moment stands out?
I did a concert one night in Chicago in the late ’80s where Ray Charles and George Burns opened up for me. That was pretty big!
In 1985, you took part in the historic recording of “We Are the World.” What kind of impact did that have on you?
It was really something. I think that moment truly changed the landscape for music. It wasn’t about any of us making money, it was making music for someone else. I currently do the song in my show with a choir.
What do you make of the growth of country music?
Every type of music has a massive change every 10 years. When I entered into the country music scene, the stars were Johnny Cash and others. Then I came along and made it a little more pop. The trick is, who is going to bring in the young kids? Once fans come to country music, they don’t leave.
You were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013, and you received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Country Music Association the same year. What did those honors mean to you?
My boys said, “Dad, it took you a long time to get into the Country Music Hall of Fame.” I said, “It’s not when, it’s that you get in.” I was very proud of that. The Willie Nelson thing was a great honor as well. These honors give you the foundation that justifies the success I’ve had.
Will you record a final album?
My guess is I will do one more record. But it’s got to be really special.
Even though you will no longer tour, would you ever do a residency or perform near your home?
I’m not thinking past this tour. I don’t believe it’s fair to call this a farewell tour, then come back. But I can’t say I won’t because I might spend two days home, then say, “Get me away from these kids!” (He laughs.)
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, at NYCB Theatre at Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Rd.
INFO 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Rogers makes a tradition of inviting Long Island choirs and performance groups to join him onstage during his shows at NYCB Theatre at Westbury. Appearing this year:
Rhythm of the Knights Uniondale Show Choir