Eagles leader Don Henley was very close to Kenny Rogers, and he's paying his respects to his late friend and mentor, who played a key role in helping launch Henley's success with the Eagles.

Prior to helping Glenn Frey found the Eagles, the singer-songwriter and drummer played in a band called Shiloh. After a chance meeting at a clothing store in Dallas, Rogers took the band under his wing and helped to secure Shiloh a record deal, and he also produced the band's first album in 1970. Rogers brought the group to Los Angeles, and after they disbanded, Henley ended up playing in Linda Ronstadt's backing group with Frey, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. They split off to form the Eagles in 1971.

Rogers died on Friday (March 20) at the age of 81, and Henley opened up to Billboard about his late friend in a statement on Saturday (March 21), saying, "In addition to his tremendous talent, Kenny was a generous and caring man, a wise mentor to so many of us. He loved his friends, his family, his fellow musicians and his fans, and they loved him, right back."

"Fifty years ago, The Gambler took a gamble on me and my first band from small-town Texas, and his big-hearted support launched many careers, including mine," Henley adds. "He also gave me some of the best career advice I ever got: 'You’d better be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you’re going to meet those same people on the way back down.'"

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Henley shared that Rogers "had been struggling with a number of health issues for some time."

"He fought the good fight for as long as he could, but he was tired, and he was ready to make his exit. I’m just grateful that I got to visit with him in the hospital, about six weeks ago, and convey my gratitude to him for all he did for me. RIP, my friend. Thanks for all the gladness you gave us," Henley's statement concludes.

Rogers' death is attributed to natural causes. His family are planning a “small private service” due to the coronavirus pandemic; however, they plan to celebrate the life and legacy of the singer publicly at a “later date.”

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