When Kenny Rogers, who died at 81 on March 20, asked me to play the role of his love interest in his 1993 TV movie Rio Diablo, I was overjoyed. But before we shot the first scene, I was an absolute mess with nerves. Yes, I’ve sung in the Super Bowl halftime show, but acting in a dramatic western was brand-new to me.
In the first scene, I was supposed to run toward Kenny, put my arms around him and scream, “Don’t leave, they will kill you!” Just as I touched him, he whispered, “For God’s sake, Naomi, don’t laugh.” Of course, this immediately sent me into doing the bent-over double belly laugh. The director and crew laughingly told me to expect such pranks on the set. I decided to get back at Kenny. In the next scene, I was giving him a bath in an old claw-footed bathtub. Kenny was wearing only his underwear, so I hid his robe. Never thought I’d ever be giving Kenny Rogers a bath, much less see him almost naked.
I was a huge fan of Kenny’s long before I ever met him. I loved him, and the times I spent with him are some of my best memories. When I got Kenny’s Christmas card this year, I saw a laughing Kenny with his lovely wife Wanda. As I stared at the card, a life well lived was the phrase that came to mind.
Judd is a Grammy-winning country musician and actor
This appears in the April 06, 2020 issue of TIME.
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