"There was always so much other stuff going for us," Dolly Parton told PEOPLE in 2013

By Maria Pasquini
March 21, 2020 01:30 PM
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Kenny Rogers Dolly Parton
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Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton have always had a lot of love for one another, but they never crossed the line between friendship and romance.

Opening up about their lasting bond, Parton told PEOPLE in 2013 that the pair didn’t actually become close until after they began touring together following the release of their 1983 hit “Islands in the Stream.”

“We had met before ‘Islands’ but we weren’t friends,” Rogers said at the time, as Parton agreed: “We became friends when we started working together, and touring.”

“We’d eat, hang out, and we found we really liked each other,” she added. “It was a wonderful group of people. My band members, his band members, everybody was like family. Kenny was always like a relative to me.”

The pair also laughed when asked about an old interview Rogers had done, during which he spoke about why they never took things to the next level.

“We didn’t have time!” said Parton.

“I remember that interview and what I said when they asked if we weren’t tempted to get together on a more intimate level. I said we may have been tempted but we didn’t want to ruin a good friendship,” Rogers replied. ”I think it would have.”

Agreeing, Parton responded, “It usually does.”

“We never did go there. There was always so much other stuff going for us. So much love and friendship, we were so compatible,” she added.

Entertainment: Dolly Parton Telethon
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
| Credit: Ron Elkman/USA TODAY NETWORK

They also both had plenty going on in their own love lives!

“And she’s been married for 40 years,” Rogers said of Parton’s lasting relationship with husband Carl Dean.

“And he’s been married about 40 times! I couldn’t catch him between wives!” Parton joked of Rogers, who was married five times throughout his life.

Years later, while taking the stage at Rogers’ farewell tribute concert in 2017, the pair’s chemistry was on display as Parton playfully spoke about her friend.

“Kenny, I just wanted to say that I’m really, really proud of you, and I just hope many, many years from now when I’m older,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.”

The play on his signature song “The Gambler” soon turned into something else as Parton poked fun at over the years. “Anyway, you’ve been accused of it all through the years, but you are retiring … you want to hold ’em now?” she asked, gesturing to her ample endowment. “I’ll try not to embarrass you.

“I’m not sure that embarrassed me,” Rogers teased back.

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

“I take great pride in that we have a very warm, sweet friendship that we’ve had for 30 years,” Rogers told PEOPLE that night, launching into an explanation of how Parton came to be involved with “Islands in the Stream” way back when.

“It all started when Barry Gibb wrote ‘Islands in the Stream,’ and he gave it to me to record — he was producing an album,” he said, adding that after “singing it for four days” he decided he wasn’t that big of a fan of the future hit, which went on to top the charts.

“I finally said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore’ and he said, ‘You know what we need? We need Dolly Parton,’ ” Rogers recalled. “I had a recording studio at the time and she was downstairs and my manager Ken Kragen said, ‘I just saw her!’ and I said, ‘Well, go get her!’ He went downstairs and she came marching into the room, and once she came in and started singing the song was never the same. It took on a personality of its own.”

That night, Parton also spoke warmly of her friend, whom she called her “soul mate.”

“Kenny’s friendship means more to me than our hit records. Actually, we’re kind of soul mates,” she told CMT, according to Taste of Country. “ He’s from Texas and I’m from Tennessee. There’s an old famous country song ‘T for Texas, T for Tennessee.’ We always sing that to each other. I love his singing. I love his voice. I never tire of hearing him sing.”

Hours after news first broke on Saturday of the country music icon’s death at 81, Parton paid tribute to Rogers on social media.

“Well, I couldn’t believe it this morning when I got up, turned on the TV, checking to see what the coronavirus was doing and they told me that my friend and singing partner Kenny Rogers had passed away,” she said in a video tribute.

“I know that we all know that Kenny’s in a better place than we are today but I’m for sure he’s going to be talking to God some time today if he’s ain’t already, and going to be asking him to spread some light onto this darkness going on here,” she continued. “But I loved Kenny with all my heart and my heart’s broken and a big ole chunk has gone with him today.”

Referencing one of her own hits, Parton added: “I think that I can speak for all his family, his friends, his fans, when I say that I will always love you.”