Dolly Parton, one of America’s most favorite darlings, has been a mainstay in our music and entertainment industry for many years. Her signature style, sparkling personality and wit, angelic voice, and songwriting abilities are well-known. She’s extremely likable, which is evident in every public appearance, guest spot, talk show, or interview she’s a part of. She’s even able to make us a little jealous of Miley Cyrus (Dolly is Cyrus’ fairy godmother).
She’s beloved in her private life as well as her public life. She’s never afraid to try new things, which could explain her Twitter fascination, and she, at 70 years old, continues to be a beautiful and charming presence in our lives. About herself, she’s said, “I’ve always been a writer. My songs are the door to every dream I’ve ever had and every success I’ve ever achieved.” With the ability to describe such a fabulous career and life, we want her to be our fairy godmother, too. We’re taking the time to celebrate a life well-lived and a lot more to come from this pint-sized powerhouse.
She didn’t start out with much but love, but love was all she needed
Dolly grew up in Locust Ridge, Tenn. Her parents, Avie Lee Owens Parton and Lee Parton, married in 1939 and over the next (number of years) had a total of 12 children. Dolly Rebecca was born fourth in line, in 1946. Her father, a farmer, worked in a logging camp, and, according to his 2000 obituary, went as far as Detroit to find work to support his family. Dolly’s mother, a preacher’s daughter, worked hard at being a good mama and wife and was the inspiration for Dolly’s famous song “Coat of Many Colors.”
In a 1978 interview with Lawrence Grobel, Dolly talked about an aunt of hers possessing the first television, not to mention flushing toilet, that Dolly ever saw. She discussed making their own soap and going to the river to wash themselves in the warmer months. She joked that there were so many of them, and they were so dirty, that they’d leave a ring around the Little Pigeon River. In cold weather, Dolly says “we’d have a pan of water and we’d wash down as far as possible, then we’d wash up as far as possible..and when somebody cleared the room, we’d wash possible.”
She knew from early childhood that she was meant to be a star
Dolly was first introduced to music by her mother, who knew how to play the guitar and sang. Dolly also discovered her voice at church, and when Uncle Bill gave her a guitar, she immediately started writing songs. At the tender age of 10, Dolly started singing and playing guitar on local TV and radio shows in nearby Knoxville, Tenn. Her Uncle Bill Owens (the same doting uncle who gave her the first real guitar; Dolly made her own at age 7) could see that the motivated, talented young girl had star potential and could see that she knew she was destined for greatness. He introduced young Dolly to Cas Walker, a successful grocery chain owner who had created a radio program to promote his stores that later turned into a local TV show. The name of the show was the Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour.
Uncle Bill brought Dolly backstage and she marched right up to Cas Walker and told him that she wanted to work for him. Dolly became a regular on his show, which led to future opportunities. She tells the story of her early career in the film Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, which was released in December 2015. Dolly enjoyed success on Walker’s show, and even made her first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1959, when she was just 13. She was introduced by Johnny Cash, and her performance of George Jones’ “You Gotta Be My Baby” earned her three encores.
As soon as she could, she moved to Nashville
While Dolly enjoyed her time on Cas Walker’s show, any country singer worth his or her salt knew that to really make it, you had to move to Nashville. So, as soon as Dolly graduated she moved to Nashville, Tenn., home of country music. But before she found fortune and fame, she found something else first: a man who, in two short years, would become her husband. According to Dolly, she was doing her laundry on her first day in town at a laundromat called the Wishy Washy. During her first few months in town, Dolly worked at Couser’s restaurant, which closed in October 2016. (Dolly, of course, made her mark everywhere she went, and when Norman Couser passed away, the restaurant’s Facebook page said that Dolly was his favorite customer.)
Soon, she got a writing job with a publishing company but starting writing her own songs. One song, “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” was penned with Uncle Bill Owens and was recorded by Bill Phillips in 1966. Dolly sang harmony on the record, which peaked at number six on the Billboard charts. Dolly was signed to Fred Foster’s Monument Records and had her first Top 40 hit with the song “Dumb Blonde,” with lyrics like “Just because I’m blonde, don’t think I’m dumb.” Interestingly, Dolly did not write “Dumb Blonde,” even though she was known as a songwriter.
She caught the attention of TV and country star Porter Wagoner
Dolly was 21 years old when she was hired by Porter Wagoner to be the new female vocalist on The Porter Wagoner Show. Dolly and Porter were a hit, and they won many awards for their work together. Porter’s daughter, Debra, said that Parton helped rejuvenate her father’s career and that their working relationship was fantastic, but Dolly had dreams of her own. She had promised to work on Wagoner’s show for five years, and ended up there for seven. During that time, she had a hit with “Joshua,” in 1970, and in 1974 she had three rapid-fire No. 1 songs with “Jolene,” “Love Is Like a Butterfly” and “I Will Always Love You.”
Dolly wanted to go out on her own, and in February of 1974 she announced that she was doing just that. Porter really didn’t want her to go and wouldn’t listen to reason. She wrote “I Will Always Love You” to make him understand, and the song brought him to tears. His daughter says that he told Dolly, “That’s the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.” Wagoner produced Dolly’s records until 1976 and recorded two albums quickly after that, earning her the esteemed CMA Award for Entertainer of the Year in 1978. Dolly Parton was a legitimate solo recording artist, songwriter, and TV personality, but she wasn’t finished. Not by a long shot.
She took on the film industry effortlessly
In 1980, Dolly Parton had her first movie debut in 9 to 5, a comedy also starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dabney Coleman. Dolly was inexperienced but enthusiastic, so she memorized all the parts in the film in addition to her own. In a 1980 interview with Bobbie Wygant, Dolly said that even though she was over-excited and that movies were so foreign, she felt confident and was sure she could do it. She’d had experience with television, so the only difference was the amount of time making a movie takes. In the same interview, Dolly revealed that she filled the time by writing songs, one of which became the theme song of the movie. That song, “9 to 5,” went to No. 1 on the pop and country charts, and she received an Academy Award nomination. For her first movie!
Dolly’s next movie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, ranked No. 1 the the U.S. box office, knocking out E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, a film that had been at the top for six weeks. Dolly has continued to have a great film career, appearing on the big and small screens, notably in Steel Magnolias, episodes of Designing Women and the Simpsons, and her own movies, Dollywood’s a Christmas Carol, A Country Christmas Story, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors, and more.
She became a star without sacrificing her morals
Dolly’s interview with Lawrence Grobel was actually written for Playboy. Dolly appeared on the cover, decked out with bunny ears, lots of cleavage, and a bow tie, but she wouldn’t take her clothes off for the famous magazine. Dolly became aware at an early age that her figure would have an impact on men. In her Bobbie Wygant interview, she talked about turning come-ons into jokes if things got too uncomfortable, and always felt OK walking out the door if things got too weird. She said that she never had to sleep her way to to get where she wanted to go, regardless of how many people tried.
For years, fans speculated as to whether Parton had an affair with Kenny Rogers. The pair recorded the popular duet “Islands in the Stream” in 1983, and their chemistry raised a few eyebrows. Dolly fans know that she would never cheat on her husband, but Rogers addressed the long-held rumor in his book Luck or Something Like It, saying that the pair were wonderful friends, and anything sexual would have ruined their friendship. Dolly never sacrificed her morals for her career.
She launched a successful theme park
In 1986, Dolly partnered with the Herschend Brothers, founder of Silver Dollar City, an attraction just beside the Great Smoky Mountains. Dollywood was born, and it is one of Tennessee’s most popular tourist destinations. The theme park boasts lots of shows and rides, including the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster, the Lightning Rod. The water park features gorgeous scenery and lots of water slides. There’s a resort with a spa, convention center, and other features, or you can rent one of Dollywood’s cabins for a family getaway.
In 2010, Dollywood won the amusement park industry’s top theme park award, called the Liseberg Applause Award. It was in its 25th year at the time and represented a total of $1 billion in accumulated payroll in the area. Since most of Dollywood’s employees are local, Dollywood is important to the community and is the area’s largest employer. Dollywood was the only U.S.-based theme park nominated that year.
She gives back in so many ways
Dolly has never forgotten what it was like to grow up in an impoverished region. She is passionate about giving, and she gives financially and with her time to a number of organizations. She also founded the Dollywood Foundation, which is the 503 (c)(3) behind Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. This organization started in 1995 and is designed to benefit the children in east Tennessee, particularly to promote literacy and mail one book every month to children from birth to 5 years old, regardless of the family’s income. Dolly says that her own father didn’t know how to read or writ and that he could have accomplished much more if he’d had an opportunity for an education.
The Dollywood Foundation has also responded to the wildfires in the Gatlinburg, Tenn., area. She took to Facebook to urge people to help her help the families who lost everything in the fires. She personally pledged $1,000 per month to newly homeless victims via her My People Fund. The families will receive this money from the foundation for six months to help them try to put their lives back together.
She stays true to her one true love
Dolly met Carl Dean that first day in Nashville, and they’ve been together ever since. They married in 1966, and when asked how the marriage has lasted so long, Dolly says, “Forty-seven of those years I was gone.” All jokes aside, the love is real, and to celebrate it, they renewed their vows in a private ceremony on May 30, 2016 on their 50th wedding anniversary. And, in true Dolly fashion, she auctioned off photos to the highest bidder, with all the money dedicated to children’s charities.
Carl has been historically silent, but for their 50th anniversary he agreed to open up a bit. He and Dolly issued a press release, and Dolly started a hashtag #DollyAndCarl so fans could ask questions. In a feature on Oprah’s website, Dolly said, “He’s always loved who I was, and I loved who he was, and we never tried to change each other.” On Dolly’s own website, we learn that she wrote the song “From Here to the Moon and Back” for Carl.
She isn’t even close to being finished
With appearances on The Voice, a Front Porch Series with Lauren Alaina, a recent tour for her album Pure and Simple and more, Dolly Parton is still, at 70 years old (at the time of this writing), a very busy girl. She raised $9 million for the Tennessee wildfire victims, is active on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and in was honored with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. And all the while she keeps her figure trim, her dresses tight, her hair big, and her smile bright.
And about the Dolly look? She freely admits that she has had plastic surgery. She told Southern Living that she would have never admitted it if she hadn’t gotten caught, but now if people ask her she just says, “Yeah, whatever. And I ain’t done yet!” She’s also said, “I’m in the public eye, so I don’t care who knows what I get done. If I see something sagging, dragging or bagging, I get it sucked, tucked or plucked. It takes a lot of money to look as cheap as I look.”
She may be a bit self-deprecating, but we think Dolly’s anything but cheap. She’s a firecracker of a lady, with a kind heart and loads of talent.