The guitarist, producer and singer-songwriter may be 68, but he continues to play live – he’s doing six festivals in Britain in August.
I take it he doesn’t need the cash.
Definitely not. Rodgers is the world’s fourth richest music producer with an estimated fortune of $100m, having written, produced or performed on records that have sold more than 500 million copies. He has sold more than 75 million singles worldwide and could earn more in a year from back-catalogue royalties alone than most of today’s popular artists.
And he’s made money for others?
So much cash for so many artists – he has produced or appeared on hits in every decade since the 1970s. David Bowie? His biggest-selling album, Let’s Dance, which produced three hit singles and shifted 10.7m copies, had Rodgers all over it. Madonna? She can thank him for Like a Virgin, which has sold more than 21 million copies worldwide since its release in 1984, becoming one of the bestselling albums of all time. Other artists to benefit from his talent include Blondie, INXS, Duran Duran, Diana Ross and Sister Sledge. And let’s not forget 2013’s Get Lucky, co-written with Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams. Rodgers once told the FT: “I think that I’m a really good rewriter. That’s my job – that I have some kind of ability to say, ‘Hmm, maybe this song is better if we do this.’”
Where did he get that talent?
Rodgers was born in New York when his mother, Beverly, was 13. His biological father was a travelling percussionist and rarely part of his childhood. More influential was his stepfather, Bobby Glanzrock, described in Rodgers’s 2011 autobiography as a “beatnik PhD”. He told the FT last year: “My parents were incredibly loving, but they were heroin addicts, so my childhood was very nomadic.” Music was his solace; he learnt the flute and clarinet before switching to guitar at 16. By 1972 he had met his musical soul mate, Bernard Edwards, and they formed the disco band Chic. Sales of their 1977 debut album, featuring the classic Everybody Dance, hit more than $200m. Rodgers’s first pay cheque was $4m, which was a bit like getting $40m today. He went out and bought a speedboat: “I’d go flying down the river with these beautiful girls… people had never seen anything like it.”
Good times. Does he lead a bougie life now?
Not since giving up drink and drugs in the early 1990s, having woken up in hospital to learn his heart had stopped eight times. He takes one holiday a year and rarely travels private. That said, he lives in Westport, Connecticut, one of America’s richest neighbourhoods, with his partner, Nancy Hunt. He told The Sunday Times last week he has 11 TVs in his house because he needs “a distraction to narrow my focus”. He still practises guitar daily.
He must have some indulgences?
When asked what his biggest extravagances were, he said: “Reading and going to the cinema.” He seems endlessly fascinated with new experiences, and told the FT last year: “Yesterday I went rollerskating.” His digital avatar is part of a series of interviews for the National Portrait Gallery. But he did once admit to a super-spendy ambition. “I would love to go into space… I haven’t booked a ticket yet, but I think that I will be a passenger on SpaceX before I die. I’m almost certain of it.”
Hasn’t he also survived a cancer scare?
Indeed. Rodgers was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer in October 2010 and given the all-clear in 2013. In 2017, he was diagnosed with two different cancers within one mass. At a performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 2019, he announced he was “100% cancer-free”.
Tell me about his recent business deals.
In 2014 Rolling Stone said the full scope of his career is “still hard to fathom”. In the early 2000s he worked on film and video-game soundtracks, and he’s currently chief creative adviser at Abbey Road Studios. In 2018 he co-founded Hipgnosis, the music IP investment and song management company. This week The Guardian reported that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are selling their back catalogue to Hipgnosis for $140m. It already owns 50% of Neil Young’s songs, Shakira’s oeuvre and classic tracks by Fleetwood Mac, Blondie, the B-52s, Mariah Carey, Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga and many, many more.
Yet he doesn’t seem interested in making loads more money for himself.
He gives a lot back. In January 2019 he offered 600 free concert tickets to furloughed federal workers during the US government shutdown, and he often publicises how unfairly record labels treat artists and writers. He told The Guardian recently: “They do not get their fair share of the pie.” We Are Family, his 1979 hit for Sister Sledge, inspired a charitable foundation that he runs, which over the past 20 years has funnelled millions of dollars into educating children and nurturing young talent. And when asked by the FT six months ago what he thought was the greatest challenge of our time, he replied: “Saving the planet. I am 68 years old and I have watched this world change. My eyes and my heart don’t lie – I have seen this.”
The world needs more Niles.