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The real reason Kenny Rogers never did a 6th Gambler movie

When country music legend Kenny Rogers passed away on March 20th, 2020 he left behind a career in the entertainment industry that spanned 60 years and several dozen albums. Of course, any fan of roasted chicken will point out that music wasn't Rogers' only professional venture. In addition to founding Kenny Rogers' Roasters, he also had an acting career, which didn't garner him as much recognition as his music, but which spawned several iconic performances.

Like fellow country legends Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, Rogers capitalized on his larger-than-life persona to create roles for himself. The most famous of these came in a series of made-for-TV movies inspired by arguably his most famous song, "The Gambler." Kenny Rogers as The Gambler (or just The Gambler), the first film in the series, premiered on CBS in 1980. It was followed by four sequels, but after the fifth film, 1994's The Gambler V: Playing for Keeps, the series ended, leaving fans of the stoic hero wondering why a sixth installment never materialized.

What were the Gambler movies?

The song that inspired the films tells the story of a man who meets a gambler on a train, who gives the narrator life advice, the most famous bit being the importance of developing the ability to "know when to hold 'em / know when to fold 'em / know when to walk away / and know when to run." While the film series doesn't exactly follow the story of the song, it does borrow quite a bit from the overall tone and ethos.

The first film introduces Brady Hawkes (Rogers), a gambler in the old west who receives a letter from a son he never knew he had, Jeremiah (played my multiple actors throughout the film series). Jeremiah asks Hawkes for help getting him and his mother out of the grasp of his abusive stepfather. Hawkes boards a train to help his son and meets Billy Montana (Bruce Boxleitner), a young upstart wannabe poker player. Although Billy lacks maturity, he and Hawkes become friends and allies. After a series of wacky, western-inspired adventures, they eventually reach Jeremiah and defeat the stepfather in a shootout.

Subsequent films (many of which were released as multi-night miniseries events) followed the continuing adventures of Hawkes, with Billy Montana and Jeremiah often along for the ride.

Were the Gambler movies successful?

Kenny Rogers as the Gambler was a huge ratings success for CBS, drawing more viewers to the network than any other TV movie had in the previous two years. It was also well-received critically, scoring Emmy nominations for Outstanding Film Editing and Outstanding Cinematography. The film was typical low-budget TV fare, but it clearly had enough charm to get viewers to look past the less-successful bits.

The films that followed had varying degrees of success, with many of them raking in Emmy nominations and high ratings. Contemporary reviews of the first film highlight exactly why the movies connected with audiences. Ian Jane, writing for DVDTalk, praised Rogers' performance, specifically in regards to how he brings to life the Gambler's trademark ability to silently read body language and facial cues. "Kenny Rogers says more with his eyes and his demeanor than he does with the limited amounts of dialogue he has in the film," Jane wrote, adding, "Kenny Rogers makes [The Gambler] gold."

Given the success of the previous installments, why did a sixth movie never materialize?

Why didn't Kenny Rogers make another Gambler movie?

There are a number of explanations for why a sixth Gambler movie never made it into production. The fifth film received a lukewarm reception, with TV Guide calling it "lumbering" and Variety noting that "you can feel the effort" behind the filmmaking. It also failed to garner any Emmy nominations, unlike the Reba McEntire co-starring fourth film in the series. Given that Gambler V: Playing for Keeps aired 14 years after the first installment, it seems likely that the simple answer for why a followup never happened was that the moment had passed.

As Rogers got older, it also likely made less sense for him to star in westerns that required a certain amount of action from their lead characters. It's well-documented that he suffered from knee and shoulder injuries later in his career which required him to sit during his concerts, and which probably would have made the prospect of returning for another stint as Hawkes make less and less sense as the years went on.

He did tell Jimmy Fallon in a 2011 Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon interview that he had a theoretical plan for how he might return for Hawkes in another outing, which involved the character getting injured in a shootout at the beginning of the film, therefore explaining his limited mobility. However, in 2017, after playing a final farewell concert in Nashville, Rogers retired from show business for good in order to spend time with his family, confirming that there would not be a sixth Gambler film. In March 2020, he passed away at the age of 81, finally breaking even... but in his entire illustrious career, we found an ace that we could keep.