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That Time Kenny Rogers Totally Killed a Muppet

Published February 7, 2022

Kenny Rogers didn’t write the lyrics to “The Gambler,” and he wasn’t even the first — or the second —  singer to record a version of it. But when Rogers’ released his album, The Gambler, in November 1978, the title track quickly became the eternally bearded country legend’s signature song. 

“That was a career-building song,” Rogers told Rolling Stone in 2014. “Don Schlitz wrote it, and what’s funny is that he’s never been a gambler. In fact, the song’s not about gambling; it’s a metaphor for life and picking yourself up. He just happened to hear that line when he was walking down the street one day and it stuck with him. It was brilliant.”

“The Gambler” spent four months on the country charts, won Rogers a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, and was the Country Music Association’s (CMA) song of the year in 1979. (Its success also meant that Don Schlitz could quit his graveyard-shift gig in Vanderbilt University’s computer center to dedicate himself to songwriting full-time.) 

Due to the combination of the song’s popularity and Rogers’ willingness to sit for the kind of promo pictures you can get at the State Fair — the old-timey ones that let your cousin Kaydynn dress up like a saloon owner — his agent was able to pitch CBS on a series of TV movies loosely based on the song. (In The Gambler and its four (!!!) sequels, Rogers was a Wild West poker player named Brady Hawkes. That’s pretty much the entire plot.)

But the most bonkers “Gambler”-related performance that Rogers gave might’ve been his November 1979 appearance on The Muppet Show. Rogers took the “on a train bound for nowhere” line literally, and sang the song while sitting in a train car with three elderly Muppets. They trade lines back and forth and after Rogers finishes the line “And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep,” one of the old Muppets ACTUALLY DIES ON THE TRAIN. His spirit fizzes around the car’s interior for the duration of the final chorus, and everyone else successfully ignores his lifeless cotton corpse. 

So there you go. “The Gambler” got Kenny Rogers a Grammy, a series of increasingly crummy TV movies, and contributed to at least one puppet death. Enjoy this week’s Mystery Video Fun Club. 

What do fancy-pants awards, Whitney Houston, and the Coen Brothers all have in common? Figure it out, and you could win a free swag box from this week’s #MysteryVideoFunClub!

Featured image courtesy of Sheila Herman, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic