Ken Kragen, Organizer of ‘We Are the World’ and Former Manager of Kenny Rogers, Dies at 85

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

Ken Kragen, who was the mastermind organizer of We Are the World as well as a former manager of Kenny Rogers and the Bee Gees, died on Tuesday. He was 85.

Variety got confirmation of his death from spokesperson and friend Cheryl J. Kagan.

In a statement, Emma Kragen, Ken Kragen’s daughter, said, “While I am of course immensely proud of everything he has accomplished professionally, he has also been the best dad to me that I could have ever asked for.”

Kragen played an instrumental part in organizing the talent behind the 1985 song We Are the World, which was a charity single focused on raising funds for African famine relief. He also contributed to Hands Across America and NetAid.

Ken Kragen Received United Nations’ Peace Medal For Work On Charities

He received the United Nations’ peace medal for his We Are the World and Hands Across America contributions. Among the charity boards, Ken Kragen also served on include The Mr. Hollands Opus Foundation, Community in School, and USA for Africa.

Ken Kragen was born in Alameda, Calif., on Nov. 24, 1936. He graduated from Harvard Business School then headed out on a career spanning film, music, and television. Besides Rogers, others that he managed include Lionel Richie, The Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Burt Reynolds, Travis Tritt, and Trisha Yearwood.

He also was a prevalent face in the world of film and TV projects. Among his were CBS’ Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Rogers’ series of Gambler movies, and the 2004 feature film, The 12 Dogs of Christmas, which was adapted from his Emma’s children’s book of the same name. He also produced part of the 1992 presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton.

Prolific Producer, Manager Also Gained Emmy Nominations, MTV Awards

Ken Kragen received Emmy nominations, two MTV awards, an American Music Award, and a manager of the year award from the Conference of Professional Managers. He later became president of The Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music.

Kragen is the only person to ever be elected as leader of both organizations.

Cathy Worthington, his wife of 43 years; his daughter Emma; his sister Robin Merritt; and his son-in-law, Zach Marion all survive him. The Ken Kragen Memorial Foundation is currently in its inception and will later accept donations to charitable causes over the coming months.

Rogers died in 2020 at 81 years old. But old friend and Islands in the Stream duet partner Dolly Parton had a role in a TV event back in September 2021.

The special airs as Kenny Rogers: All In for the Gambler.

Rogers and Parton were friends. “He, like me, was brought up very poor. We understood that world, and how much we wanted things,” Parton said according to Biography.