Dolly Parton Tops an All-Star Lineup in a TV Tribute Concert to the Legendary Kenny Rogers

The CBS special, filmed before "The Gambler" singer's death in 2020, features Lady A, Chris Stapleton, Reba McEntire, Lionel Richie and the final performance of "Islands in the Stream"

Country great Kenny Rogers died more than a year ago, but his legendary career lives on in his timeless music — and now a one-hour TV special in his honor.

Airing Thursday night on CBS, Kenny Rogers: All In for the Gambler is gleaned from the epic tribute concert that was held on Oct. 25, 2017, in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on the cusp of the superstar's retirement. He died, at age 81, from natural causes in March 2020.

For the first two-thirds of the show, an impressive array of stars — Reba McEntire, Lionel Richie, Chris Stapleton, Lady A, Little Big Town and Idina Menzel — each take a turn performing from Rogers' vast library of hits. But they're really mere warmup acts for the must-see main event, the final public appearance of one of country's most beloved duos, Rogers and Dolly Parton.

Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Joshua Timmermans

The show's producers offer a generous helping of their lengthy set, complete with Parton's spicy humor and Rogers' deadpan retorts. And, of course, they do what the sellout crowd came for: They sing.

Parton serenades a rapt Rogers with her signature "I Will Always Love You," and then the two top the show with what is the final performance of their classic "Islands in the Stream." It will no doubt be a memorable moment for TV viewers, as it was the live audience, but four years removed from the event, perhaps the most poignant moment arrives with the duo's opening song, their 2013 hit "You Can't Make Old Friends."

All In for the Gambler: Kenny Rogers' Farewell Concert Celebrati, Nashville, USA - 25 Oct 2017
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Invision/AP/Shutterstock

"How will I sing when you are gone?" Parton sings to Rogers. "'Cause it won't sound the same. Who'll join in on those harmony parts when I call your name?"

She delivers the words with love and tenderness, perhaps sensing the speed that time slips away.

For most of the special, Rogers holds court stageside with his wife, Wanda, enjoying the parade of friends paying tribute to a career that earned him 24 No. 1 singles, six CMA Awards, three Grammys and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Kenny Rogers
Kenny and wife Wanda Miller Rogers. Joshua Timmermans

Chris Stapleton leads off the show, taking on the unenviable task of delivering Rogers' signature, "The Gambler," and he ably meets the challenge with a soulful rendering. Lady A creatively turns "She Believes in Me" into a dialogue between the lyrics' two characters. Little Big Town offers a celestial vocal blend to the romantic ballad, "Through the Years," and Reba McEntire keeps it country for "Reuben James."

Idina Menzel brings her Broadway chops — and multi-octave range — to "We've Got Tonight," dueting with Lady A's Charles Kelley. Their performance lifts the arena crowd to their feet, and they stay standing for Lionel Richie, who enters the stage to sing "Lady," a song he wrote for Rogers. During the performance, Richie delivers another unforgettable moment when he tries to approximate Rogers' famous vibrato, drawing a hearty laugh from Rogers.

lionel richie
Lionel Richie. Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Kenny Rogers: All In for the Gambler airs at 9 p.m. CDT/10 p.m. EDT Thursday on CBS.

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