Cybill, Dolly and 500 Other Friends Throw a Surprise 50th Birthday for Kenny Rogers

UPDATED 08/22/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/22/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

It was hard living a lie," admitted Marianne Rogers, wife of Kenny, sounding as if she had borrowed a line from one of her husband's songs. But the scheming was for a good cause: a surprise bash for Kenny's 50th birthday. Marianne's plan was cunning. Kenny was playing golf at Bel Air's MountainGate Country Club with O.J. Simpson and casino owner Steve Wynn. Meanwhile, the guests—more than 500 in all, who paid $500 each to turn the party into a fundraiser for World Hunger Year—descended on the final hole to watch him finish his round. They made an instant gallery, but the nearsighted singer thought the crowd was a blur of stragglers from a wedding party at the club.

It wasn't until Marianne greeted the man of the hour with a hearty "Happy birthday!" that Rogers spotted individual faces in the throng, including those of Cybill Shepherd, Linda Gray, Bruce Boxleitner, Michelle Lee, Henry Mancini, Olivia Newton-John, Roger Miller, Sherry Lansing, the Rev. Robert Schuller and Phyllis George and her husband, former Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown.

The group adjourned to a converted tennis court at the club for a three-hour soiree that featured a dinner of grilled chicken breasts and live performances by Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton and Dolly Parton. Dolly had flown in from Natchitoches, La., where she's filming Steel Magnolias, and she had a little trouble catching her breath after singing "9 to 5." "Big as my lungs are," said Parton, "you'd think I wouldn't run out of breath."

The entire event left Rogers gasping. "I have just died, and my whole life has passed in front of me in one fell swoop," said the guest of honor.

For different reasons, ex-Governor Brown was also astounded. "I thought this was your 60th birthday, you've been around so long." he told Rogers.

But it was Linda Gray who made the most pertinent remark, considering that the birthday boy had just finished playing 18 holes of golf. "When," she asked, "is he going to take a shower?"

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