The 1978 hit song spawned a TV-movie franchise now available for binging.
As The Boot reported on the 43rd anniversary of Kenny Rogers’ multi-platinum-selling album The Gambler: “Rogers was already one of the most successful male vocalists in country music by the time he released The Gambler, but the record catapulted him to superstar status, becoming a worldwide hit and even launching a string of TV movies.”
Indeed, Kenny Rogers as The Gambler – the popular 1980 TV-movie inspired by Rogers’ smash-hit recording of the song written by Don Schlitz – wound up spawning four sequels over a 14-year period. And all five movies are now available on various streaming platforms, suitable for binging as we approach the date (Aug. 21) that would have been the late entertainer’s 85th birthday.
The first Gambler film, which can be viewed on Peacock and other services, introduces Rogers stars as Brady Hawkes, a Wild West cardsharp who sets out to meet the son he never knew he had. During his journey, he befriends Billy Montana (Bruce Boxleitner), a novice gambler who needs to learn when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away – and when to run.
In a 2011 interview with C&I, Rogers admitted that, despite his success in the Gambler franchise and other movies, “I never really wanted to be an actor. It’s like I told somebody the other day: ‘There are actors, and then there are people who can act.’ You give an actor unbelievable dialogue, and they can make it believable. If you give me believable dialogue, I can keep it believable. There are a lot of people who can’t do that.
“There’s a great story about an old western actor who went to join a Beverly Hills country club. They told him, ‘We’re very sorry, sir, but we don’t let actors in here.’ And he said, ‘I’m no actor — and I’ve got 42 movies to prove it. That’s how I feel.”
Still, Rogers has fond memories of playing cowboy in the first Gambler film. “I loved riding the horses,” he said, “and I loved being out in the West. And being in gunfights where I knew I couldn’t really get shot. It was a great time, and I’m so glad that I did that.”
Later films in the franchise include:
Kenny Rogers as The Gambler: The Adventure Continues (1983): When Brady Hawkes’ son is kidnapped by outlaws, he goes gunning for the bad guys with his friend Billy Montana (Bruce Boxleitner) and straight-shooting bounty hunter Kate Muldoon (Linda Evans). The supporting cast includes Johnny Crawford (The Rifleman), David Hedison (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), and Cameron Mitchell (The High Chaparral).
Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, Part III: The Legend Continues (1987): Brady and Billy help the Sioux fight the government to get the supplies they need — and wind up uncovering corruption at a government outpost. Among the co-stars: Linda Gary (Dallas), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), and Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap).
The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991): This star-studded chapter should be of special interest of C&I readers. As Wikipedia notes: In addition to showcasing Reba McEntire in a supporting role, “The film features Rogers' character running across a galaxy of old TV western characters played by the original actors, including Gene Barry as Bat Masterson, Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp, Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie, David Carradine as Kung Fu's Caine, Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford from The Rifleman, Brian Keith as The Westerner, James Drury and Doug McClure from The Virginian (Drury and McClure play thinly disguised different characters due to rights issues for Owen Wister's character), and Paul Brinegar from Rawhide. The characters are attending a poker game said to be in honor of “the late Mr. Paladin” from Have Gun — Will Travel (the actor who played him, Richard Boone, had died in 1981). The game was played at the hotel at which Paladin lived. The game's dealer is "Hey Girl", Paladin's friend. As each veteran character appears, a few bars from his original series' theme momentarily plays in the background.”
Gambler V: Playing for Keeps (1994): The final film in the franchise finds Brady Hawkes trying to rescue his now-adult son, Jeremiah Hawkes (Kris Kamm of TV’s Coach), who has fallen in with very bad companions: Butch Cassidy (Scott Paulin of The Right Stuff) and The Sundance Kid (Peter Cullen of Falcon Crest). Look for Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) as Etta Place, Dixie Carter (Designing Women) as Lillie Langtry — and C&I cover guy Martin Kove (pictured above) as Black Jack Ketchum.