Lionel Richie is opening up about his 40-year friendship with the late Kenny Rogers, whom he credits for helping not only launch his solo career, but keep him going over the years with his wisdom and carefree point of view.

Richie was at a career crossroads when he met Rogers in 1980. He had written a new ballad titled "Lady" for his band, the Commodores, who balked at the idea of recording another of his ballads after scoring hits with "Three Times a Lady," "Sail On" and "Still." He was thinking of leaving the group, and Rogers — who had scored country hits including "Lucille," "Daytime Friends," "The Gambler," "She Believes in Me" and more — expressed interest in the song. Richie finished writing it for him and produced Rogers' recording, and the result was a history-making song that reached No. 1 in country, adult contemporary and pop, launching Rogers as a crossover superstar.

Richie credits Rogers for helping launch his solo career when he thanked him from the stage at the American Music Awards. Richie went on to score hits including "Endless Love," "Truly," "All Night Long," "Hello" and many more, and Rogers, who had been in the music business for decades already, often served as a sounding board.

“Everything that happened in my life, truthfully, from that moment on, had a Kenny Rogers stamp on it. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor," Richie tells People. "When I was going through everything, leaving the Commodores, trying to be a solo artist, trying to figure out what that means — he was that guy.”

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He started to think of Rogers as an older brother figure, despite the many differences in their backgrounds and points of view. They were, he admits, the “oddest of odd couples. Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, whatever you want to call it. That was us.”

Richie came to lean on Rogers' hard-earned sense of equanimity in the face of adversity.

"Everything I thought was the end of the world, he would start laughing," he recalls. "And [I] would ask him, ‘Why are you laughing? I am telling you something dire.’ And he said, ‘I’m from Houston, Texas. I’m from a poor family. You don’t know what hardship is.'”

Rogers died on March 20 at the age of 81. A statement from his family attributed his death to natural causes. Richie is one of many stars who have shared fond memories of the legendary entertainer.

“Kenny had the ability to just laugh through absolute disaster,” Richie adds. “He made everything in my life, up until his death, just an enjoyable ride, man. Kenny was all about love.”

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