What Happened to Kenny Rogers’ First Child, Carole?

Kenny Rogers met his first wife, Janice Gordon, when they were teenagers. They were married soon after Gordon became pregnant with their daughter, Carole. Here’s the story of what happened between Rogers and Gordon and now his relationship with Carole changed forever.

Kenny Rogers says he was prepared to take care of Janice and his unborn child

Kenny Rogers in 1989 |  Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Image
Kenny Rogers in 1989 | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

In his autobiography, Luck or Something Like It, Rogers says he was fully prepared to take on the responsibility of a husband and father after he found out Gordon was pregnant. He wasn’t about to walk away from his new family. “I understood how girls got pregnant and that guys had an obligation when they did,” wrote Rogers. “When my Janice got pregnant, I was fully prepared to take the step into married life. It never occurred to me to walk away from the responsibility.”

According to Kenny Rogers, his parents weren’t happy with the arrangement

Kenny Rogers in 1986 | Rick Diamond/Getty Images
Kenny Rogers in 1986 | Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Although Rogers was ready to take care of Janice and Carole, he said his parents weren’t pleased with his decision. According to the singer, his new responsibility meant he wouldn’t be able to help as much financially. “The fact that I stood up to take responsibility at that moment did not mean my parents were happy about my getting married,” wrote Rogers. “They saw it from the perspective of losing another wage earner in the family.”

Rogers said his parents weren’t happy because they had just gotten out of public housing and didn’t want to go back to the way they were living. His brother and sister dropped out of high school so they could go to work and earn enough money to help their parents.

“Our family hadn’t been out of the San Felipe projects that long,” wrote Rogers. “[My mother] wanted me to be happy and pursue my dreams—something a teenage marriage threatened—but she was also determined to bring her family out of poverty, and I was part of the plan.”

The marriage fell apart soon after the wedding, and Kenny Rogers was separated from his daughter

Kenny Rogers |  The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
Kenny Rogers | The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Rogers and Gordon were married in May 1958 and their daughter was born in September. However, the marriage fell apart after the couple got into an argument. Rogers said he stepped outside to take a walk so he could cool down, and when he came back, Gordon’s mother was helping her pack her bags. They were divorced in April 1960 and Gordon was awarded custody. “The divorce was hard enough, but losing Carole was extremely painful,” wrote Rogers.

Janice Gordon remarried, and Carole was adopted by her stepfather

Kenny Rogers with former wife Marianne Gordon and their son Christopher Rogers | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images
Kenny Rogers with former wife Marianne Gordon and their son Christopher Rogers | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Gordon was married soon after the divorce and she asked Rogers if Carole could be adopted. Rogers agreed and stayed away from the new family so he wouldn’t create confusion or cause problems. Here’s what he wrote about the heartbreaking situation:

Janice married another high school boyfriend, David Billingsley, and she asked that Carole be adopted by them. She also wanted to change Carole’s name to Billingsley. I reluctantly agreed. I wasn’t happy with the decision, but I truly believed Carole would be better off with a dad in the house with her, whose name she used, rather than trying to explain where her real father was. I made a conscious effort not to create problems for their family. Consequently, my daughter and I never had a chance to really bond.

Rogers went on to marry four more times. He and his fifth wife, Wanda Miller, had twin sons named Justin and Jordan. Rogers also had a son from his marriage to Margo Anderson named Kenny Jr., and a son named Christopher from his marriage to Marianne Gordon, according to The New York Times.

Read more: The Story Behind Kenny Rogers’ Song ‘Lucille’

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