With 26 number one records and 128 million albums sold, Garth Brooks is the top-selling solo artist in American history. But in 2001, at the peak of his career, the king of country radio retired from live performances.
Then, in 2009, Garth dusted off his hat, tuned his guitar and headed to Las Vegas. His intimate, sold-out shows at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel are the hottest tickets on the planet.
Garth says his reason for coming out of retirement can be explained in two words. "Steve Wynn," he says.
When looking for financial backing for his charity work, Garth says he thought of Steve, billionaire developer of some of the hottest hotel-casinos in Las Vegas. "That same day I got a message from my manager saying, 'Steve Wynn's looking for you.' And I thought, 'It has to be,'" Garth says. "Now the plan was that I would bait him in, because he'd want me to play at his place. I would go along for a little while, then say: 'I'm still in retirement. I'm fine. But I need money from you for the charity.'"
It didn't quite work out that way, though. "He hasn't given me a dime for charity, and now I'm working for him," Garth says.
Garth's Las Vegas show is an unusually intimate way to see one of the biggest stars alive. Every night he walks into the Wynn Las Vegas' Encore Theater with no set list, no script and no time limit. Instead, Garth takes questions from his devoted fans and plays their requests for hours. "It's about my life and the music that influenced the music that became mine," he says.
In addition to his own country radio anthems, Garth plays covers from his idols, including James Taylor, Jim Croce and Harry Chapin. When his biggest hits start, the rollicking crowd sings along to every word.
The show isn't over until everyone's had their fill, he says. "Hours will go by and I'll still be onstage and people will still be singing," he says. "It's a wonderful place to be."
Garth performs his 1990 hit "The Dance" for Oprah and her audience.
When Garth retired nine years ago, he says he devoted himself to his wife, country star Trisha Yearwood, and his three daughters, ages 18, 16 and 14. "Every day as a dad gets better," he says. "I didn't expect that to go into the teen years, but it actually did. I have three wonderful friends that I call my daughters, but they do know that they have a dad if they need it."
After realizing his Las Vegas show had him on the road for 139 days of the year, Garth says he rearranged his schedule to spend more time at home. "I still have two more children at the house, and I owe them what the oldest sister got of staying home and focusing there," he says. "The truth is, I would love to [perform and be a dad]. But if one of them has to go, I know which one has to go, and I don't want that. I'm really happy right now."
In addition to his show at the Wynn Las Vegas, Garth's 1990 song "Unanswered Prayers"—about the mix of emotions felt after running into an old girlfriend at a high school football game—has been made into a movie for the Lifetime channel.
Garth says while other producers have wanted to make movies based on his songs, this was the first time he agreed to a project. "Tanya Lopez at Lifetime came to me and said, 'Look, we don't want to mess with the song,'" he says. "'We just want to make a movie about the song. We feel like it touches people.'"
After seeing the final version, Garth says he was moved to tears. "I cry at commercials, so that's not a glum review," he says. "I liked it. They stayed true to the song."
When Oprah arrived at her home in California recently, she found a room full of flowers sent by Garth. "Why did you do that?" Oprah asks. "I'm like, is this the real Garth Brooks that sent this?"
Garth explains that he was thanking Oprah for letting his friend Kent Blazy's wife, who was battling brain tumors, be in the audience for a taping of The Oprah Show. "She came back and told me it was the highlight of her life," Garth says. "You have a gift that lets people think and believe with all that they should that anything is possible."
Not only is Kansas tax attorney Laci an Oprah Show Ultimate Viewer, she's also one of the biggest Garth fans around. She and her husband, Ryan, played his hit "Friends in Low Places" at their wedding.
When Ryan wrote in about his wife's love for Garth, The Oprah Show—with a little help from Laci's co-worker Danielle—cooked up a surprise she will never forget.