Dolly Parton is a walking piece of irony. She’s got fake nails, fake hair, oversized girls, and pouty lips. But despite all of that, she’s the most real star out there. With a heart of pure gold, Dolly’s sunny attitude is contagious and inspiring. There’s a lot we can learn from this Southern beauty.
Far from a ditzy blonde, Dolly Parton is a record-breaking businesswoman with talent like no other. For over five decades, she’s been comforting us with her songwriting and angelic voice, creating legendary pieces like I Will Always Love You and 9 to 5.
But no matter how much of a Dolly fan you are, there’s still so much to discover about this petite gem. Like, what’s the reason she wears fingerless gloves? And how did she refuse to let Elvis sing her song? Scroll down for the answers.
Dolly Rebecca Parton’s childhood was simple, muddy, crowded, and homey. She was born in January 1946 and grew up with 12 other siblings in East Tennessee. Her parents, Avie and Robert Lee did everything they could to make sure their kids didn’t lack anything. They grew their own produce and gathered scraps of cloth to sew clothes for the kids.
But despite their best efforts, times were rough. Their one-room cabin meant that Dolly shared a bed each night with up to four of her siblings, and the age differences caused problems. When the little ones wet the bed, the rest had nothing to do but cope with it. Surprisingly, being peed on was a blessing in the winter. “That was the only warm thing we knew in the wintertime,” Dolly told Playboy in 1978.
Of all of her songs, Dolly’s favorite is The Coat of Many Colors. Based on her childhood, this song tells the story of a colorful coat her mom patched up for her one winter. After running out of one material, her mom gathered other random scraps. She put it all together so Dolly would have a snuggly coat to wear.
To make her daughter wear the coat with pride, she told Dolly the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors from the bible. Dolly loved the story, and she loved what her mom made for her. But the kids at school mocked her. Their jokes hurt her so much that she carried the pain with her all through the years, but she made peace with it after writing the song.
Dolly was a songwriter before she knew how to write. Her mom picked up on her beautiful ability to rhyme and would jot the words down for her and store all her crafty lyrics in a shoebox. Along with her many siblings, Dolly loved to come up with different poems and stories. The family would often gather around and sing.
Dolly’s sister referred to their family choir as “elbow harmony”- because you got an elbow in the ribs if you were on the wrong part of the song. But even in a musical family full of gifted artists, Dolly stood out. Both for her voice and her writing skills.
Dolly picked up her first guitar at the age of seven and began writing some incredibly heartbreaking songs. Her uncle, Billy Owens, knew his niece was an unpolished gem and introduced her to Cas Walker, a radio show host. Cas was OK having Dolly on the show because she was an amateur who sang beautifully, and he didn’t have to pay her for it.
Before long, 10-year-old Dolly was a regular on the radio, and it didn’t take much for listeners to fall in love with her performances. At 13, she recorded her first single, Puppy Love, with Goldband Records, a small Louisiana label.
Dolly debuted at the Grand Ole Opry at the young age of 13. The gifted teenager received three whopping encores. Clearly, Dolly knew how to enchant the audience. But there was one man at the stadium that put her under his spell the second they met – Johnny Cash.
“He was so magnetic, so sexy. He was my first male grown-up crush, he just really moved me. That’s when I realized what hormones do and what sex appeal really means. He just kind of stirred me somehow,” Dolly told Seth Meyers on his late-night show.
Dolly was a child star and somewhat of a legend around town. People saw her on T.V., heard her on the radio, and instantly recognized her whenever she walked by. At school, she was considered a “big deal” because being on the radio was no joke. As a result, many were intimidated by her.
Dolly’s classmates were well aware of her talent. But despite their awe and appreciation, none of them believed she would be the huge star she is today. At her graduation, Dolly shared her plans for the future. She said, “I’m going to Nashville, and I’m going to be a star.” And her classmates all laughed in disbelief.
Dolly wasn’t joking when she said she was heading straight to Nashville. Nashville was country music’s Hollywood and the place to be if you wanted to make a name for yourself in the industry. So, the day after her graduation, she packed her things and boarded the bus for the destination she hoped would make her dreams come true.
Nashville is a place packed with many gifted songwriters, and the competition is tough. For Dolly, being a woman in the industry made it all the more difficult. According to country music critic Robert Oermann, women were second class citizens in the industry at the time. But nothing phased Dolly. If anything, the challenges just made her better.
Her first few years in Nashville were fruitful, and she managed to record some top ten singles, including Dumb Blonde and Something Fishy. But her big break was yet to come. In 1968, country star, Porter Wagoner, asked her to be a regular on his show.
It was the perfect opportunity for Dolly to connect with the audience and show off her talent to a larger crowd. Millions tuned in every week, and little girls were mesmerized by her beautiful voice. They wanted to be just like her. Dolly stayed on Porter’s show for seven years.
When Dolly arrived in Nashville, she had no intention of finding love. She had just broken up with her previous boyfriend and was still getting over the heartache. In her mind, there was no time to fall in love again. She was focused on her music.
But life had other plans for Dolly. While she was at the laundromat, a man with a white Chevrolet drove by, and her beauty immediately struck him. It was Carl Dean. He pulled up, started a conversation, and before Dolly knew it, she was in love.
Two years after they met, Dolly and Carl married. And after 54 years, they’re still together! An incredible achievement in today’s day and age. And especially if you’re in show business. What’s the secret? According to Dolly, an easy-going attitude and a good sense of humor are key.
“Laughter truly is the best medicine, and it’s true with relationships as well,” she told the Today Show, “We both are very crazy people, and we have a completely different sense of humor, but we just absolutely laugh all the time, and that’s been true through the years.”
Carl and Dolly love to get out in nature. One of their favorite activities is hopping on their R.V. and driving to the riverbank. They love exploring new areas and are always looking for new spots to unload their picnic basket and have a bite together.
Driving around in their R.V. is the perfect way for them to get out of the house while not giving up their privacy. When you’re as famous as Dolly, you can’t just walk into any old public restroom and expect to be ignored. So having the R.V. around is their ultimate getaway.
In 1974, Dolly made the difficult move of parting ways with Porter Wagoner. Porter wasn’t just her boss and duet partner. He was also her manager, producer, and mentor. She knew the split wasn’t going to be easy. But she didn’t’ want to be a part of anyone’s show anymore. She wanted her own show.
Sadly, disputes over their contract led them to court. Porter filed a $3 million lawsuit against her for leaving. After a long and tiresome battle, Dolly gave him the first million she ever made. But things didn’t end on such a bad note because Dolly knew how to soften the blow. She wrote him a song.
Dolly’s song, I Will Always Love You, is a heartbreaking tale that easily strikes a chord with you the moment you hear the first line. Whether you first heard Whitney Houston’s powerful take or Dolly’s gentle, country version, I Will Always Love You is a tear-jerker.
But it isn’t about a romantic breakup – it’s about a professional one. Dolly’s split with Porter was full of grief and heartache, so she translated those emotions into lyrics and returned to Porter’s office to sing them to him. Dolly told the Tennessean that he started crying and said, “Well, hell! If you feel that strong about it [about leaving], just go on — providing I get to produce that record because that’s the best song you ever wrote.”
While topping the country charts was great, Dolly wanted to do things on a larger scale. She decided to cross over to pop, a choice that didn’t sit well with many of her fans. But Dolly’s response to their criticism was beautiful. When they blamed her for abandoning country music, she said, “I’m not leaving country music. I’m taking it with me.”
She signed with an L.A. management firm and released “Here You Come Again,” a single that topped number one on the country chart (staying there for five weeks!) and climbed to number three on the pop chart.
In 1977, Dolly released her first self-produced album, New Harvest…First Gathering. It was her first attempt at crossing over to pop and won her a Grammy nominee for Best Country Vocal Performance. For Dolly, this was all the approval she needed to know that she was wise to follow her heart and branch out.
By the end of that same year, Dolly released her next album, “Here You Come Again.” It went platinum, making her the first female country singer to have an album sell 1 million copies. She was nominated again at the Grammys but this time took the medal home with her.
Dolly considers herself a compassionate person and describes herself as someone who hurts hard and loves hard. “When I hurt, I hurt all over. And when I cry, I cry real hard. And when I’m mad, I’m mad all over. I’m just a person; I like to experience whatever the feeling is and whatever I’m going through.”
That’s what makes her such an incredible songwriter. She knows how to capture universal emotions and create a story out of them. But there’s one thing about Dolly’s quote I believe she got wrong. Many people don’t allow themselves to experience the things that come up. And for her to go through life that way is brave beyond words.
It all dates back to a woman Dolly saw when she was a kid. She told E! News she based her look on the town tramp. The one who would walk the streets and get in and out of cars with her red lipstick and high heel shoes. “I just thought she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen,” she revealed.
When she told her mom, Avie responded with, “Oh, she’s just trash.” But Dolly didn’t see her like that, and she really didn’t know much about the woman’s occupation. So, she jokingly said, “Perfect! That’s what I want to be when I grow up. Trash!”
Dolly grew up in a humble, Christian household. And both her mom and aunts weren’t the biggest fans of getting glammed up with makeup. There were more important things to do than apply lipstick and tease your hair. But Dolly turned out completely different.
Dolly adored the women she saw in the magazines and dolled up to look just like them. She wore tons of makeup to school and wasn’t bashful about her bold appearance at all. Dolly’s suggestive look gave her a bad rep sometimes, but she knew she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was just being Dolly.
As Dolly grew in fame, Dolly’s hair grew in height. And volume, and poof. “My hair would never do exactly what I wanted it to do. So the wigs became kind of my trademark,” Dolly wrote in her book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics.
Her natural hair isn’t as voluptuous. It’s gentle and smooth. So after many futile trials of getting it to look the way she wanted, she gave up and opted for a lifetime of wigs. “I thought, why am I going through all that? Why don’t I just wear wigs? That way, I never have a bad hair day! I have a big hair day, but not a bad hair day,” she told Hallmark Family’s hosts, Mark Steines, and Cristina Ferrare.
Dolly’s a pro when it comes to makeup, so it all depends on how much time she has on her hands. She can get the camera ready in as little as five minutes or as long as an hour. The singer loves wearing makeup and slaps it on first thing in the morning. You’ll probably never get to see her without it.
Some of Dolly’s friends (people who’ve known her for 25 years) claim that they have never seen her without makeup and her hair all dolled up. As a woman, I don’t know if I’m more impressed, stunned, or worried about her dedication.
Surprisingly, Dolly doesn’t view herself as naturally blessed. Her views on the topic are pretty similar to what her character from Steel Magnolia (1989) believed: “There’s no such thing as natural beauty.” The singer acknowledges that some women look great bare-faced, but she’s not one of them.
Dolly’s open and honest about all of her surgeries and cosmetic work, and she’s the first to laugh about herself. “If I see something sagging, dragging, and bagging, I’ll go have it nipped, tucked, or sucked,” she told interviewers at A&E networks.
Dolly met Jane Fonda on an airline flight, and after a while of chatting it up, Jane knew she had found the perfect woman to play 9 to 5’s Dora Lee. The comedy film starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton as three secretaries working under their boss’s tyrannical rule. It was Dolly’s first big film.
She was eager, nervous, and all too excited about the project. So excited that she memorized the whole script. Not just her lines. But everyone’s. The girls had a good laugh about Dolly’s endearing mistake and had a blast filming the movie together.
A lot of people wonder how Dolly manages to play her guitar with such long claws. But not only does she play it with finesse and flair, but she also uses her nails as an actual instrument. Her song, 9 to 5, was written over a few weeks during her time on set with Jane and Lily, and she used her nails to create the rhythm.
“My nails are my rhythm section when I’m writing a song all alone,” she revealed, “Someday, I may cut an album, just me and my nails.” Dolly’s flashy nails received the acknowledgment they deserved and were credited on 9 to 5’s soundtrack. “It says Nails by Dolly on the album!” she laughed.
Dolly’s amusement park went through several reincarnations before becoming Dollywood. It opened in the ’60s as a small tourist attraction called Rebel Railroad, which then turned into Goldrush Junction, and later became Silver Dollar City. Finally, in 1986, the park reopened its doors as Dollywood – an oasis in the smoky mountains.
Dolly wanted to revive the park because she promised herself that she would come back to Tennessee and give back to the place she grew up in if she would ever make it big. For Dolly, Dollywood isn’t about the money. It’s about doing things right and providing jobs for people.
Initially, Dolly was unbelievably flattered when she heard Elvis wanted to record her song, I Will Always Love You. She pictured his low, smooth voice singing her lyrics, and she was more than glad to let him do so. But there was one caveat. Elvis didn’t want just to sing her song. He wanted to own it.
Dolly felt deep down that giving Elvis the rights to her song was not the right thing to do. “This is the stuff I’m leaving for my family when I’m dead and gone. That money goes in for stuff for my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews,” she reasoned.
Turning Elvis down was a gutsy move. But a brilliant one. In 1992, Whitney Houston sang her heart out to Dolly’s lyrics and took I Will Always Love You to heights Dolly didn’t know existed. “I had no idea it could be done that big and that beautiful. It was unreal,” Dolly mentioned in her A&E documentary.
Whitney recorded the song for her debut film, The Bodyguard (1992). The film’s album became the bestselling soundtrack of all time, and the song itself won all the awards it was nominated for. It became Houston’s signature song and introduced the world to Dolly’s moving lyrics.
Her father, Robert, inspired dolly’s book gifting program. Robert didn’t know how to read or write, and Dolly saw firsthand what it was like to grow up illiterate. But despite the drawbacks, Dolly’s dad was a smart, quick man who took good care of his family.
“He managed to raise that big of a family just by being able to horse trade and barter and do all the things that you have to do,” Dolly told Oprah Winfrey. “But he was ashamed that he couldn’t read and write. That always bothered me that he felt like he couldn’t learn after he was grown.” In 1995, Dolly launched her Imagination Library, a program that mails free books to children under five.
Dolly grew up with 12 siblings in a one-room cabin. Needless to say, money was tight. So tight that her parents couldn’t afford to pay the medical bills for her birth. So, they settled for an unconventional form of payment – one big sack of oatmeal.
Or cornmeal. Different sources claim different things. Bottom line, the grain was all the family could afford to give the doctor who had delivered her. We, personally, are forever grateful that the transaction turned out well. In all honesty, Dolly is priceless.
Dolly Parton has always been very open about her support for the LGBTQ community. And her candid comments have upset quite a few crowds. Including the Ku Klux Klan. After Dolly revealed she would be hosting an event called Gay Day in Dollywood, the KKK marked her as their target.
“When it first started, people were giving us threats, I still get threats,” she told Nightline. “But like I said, I’m in business. I just don’t feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody.” Dolly went ahead with the event and brushed off all their snarky remarks.
We’re so used to seeing Dolly with fingerless gloves and long sleeves that most of us don’t even question it. But when you think of it, it’s a pretty unique fashion accessory. So, what’s the deal? Is Dolly covering up scars, tattoos, or is it just a fashion statement?
The answer is a combination of everything. Dolly has tattoos, and she also has scars. In fact, she got the tattoos to cover up her scars. “I have a tendency where, if I have any kind of scars anywhere, then they kind of have a purple tinge that I can never get rid of,” she told Vanity Fair. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to kind of decorate these with some flowers or little butterflies or whatever.'”
Dolly Parton has come a long, long way. Farewell, one-room cabin. And hello, spacious, luxurious mansions. She’s done it all on her own. With her savvy business mind and unbeatable talent, Dolly has accumulated a fortune through the years.
The queen of country has a net worth of $600 million. Who would have thought that a baby whose parents paid a bag of oats to have delivered would end up having enough money to feed and renovate the whole town?
Occasionally, Dolly Parton makes an appearance at Dollywood and surprises her fans. But don’t get too excited. If you were hoping to see Dolly catch some wind on a rollercoaster, you couldn’t be more wrong. There’s no way you’ll ever see Dolly on one of Dollywood’s rides.
“I don’t ride the rides. I never have,” she told The New York Times.”I have a tendency to get motion sickness. Also, I’m a little bit chicken. With all my hair, I got so much to lose, like my wig or my shoes. I don’t like to get messed up. I’m gonna have some handsome man mess it up, I don’t want some ride doing it.”
Dolly really knew a Jolene. And yes, one that had flaming locks of auburn hair and eyes of emerald green. But that Jolene had little to do with her man. She was a young girl who stood in the autograph line at her concert. “I said, ‘Well, you’re the prettiest little thing I ever saw. So what is your name?’ And she said, ‘Jolene,'” Dolly told NPR, “And I said, ‘Jolene… That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.'”
But the story itself is real. And it has to do with a different redhead, a woman at the bank who used to flirt with her husband. “She had everything I didn’t, like legs—you know, she was about 6 feet tall. And had all that stuff that some little, short, sawed-off honky like me don’t have,” Dolly revealed.
Dolly has known Billy Ray Cyrus for years. And when Miley was born, he begged Dolly to be his little girl’s godmother. Without skipping a beat, the singer agreed. “We never did do a big ceremony, but I’m so proud of her, love her, and she’s just like one of my own,” she told ABC.
But the fact they never held an official ceremony doesn’t make Dolly’s role as her honorary godmother less important. Miley gushed over the singer at the Tonight Show, “When you meet her, she’s as incredible as you would’ve ever dreamed. She’s even better.”
The singer told ABC she once went to a gay bar where they hosted a Dolly Parton look-alike contest. Dolly said she entered the competition and exaggerated everything: her hair, lips, eyes, and outfit. She wanted to stand out from the drag queens who went on stage.
The winner was crowned according to the amount of applause they received. And, incredibly, Dolly came in last. “All these beautiful guys were walking across, these Dolly Partons … and here I come walking across the stage, and I got the least applause of anybody,” she revealed.
At 3 a.m., while most of us are still floating in some bizarre dream or another, Dolly is wide awake and working on her spiritual practice. “I’m usually up by 3 o’clock. I get up, I do my little meditations, I do my little spiritual work,” she told Marie Claire Magazine.
“I do more work between 3 [a.m.] and 7 [a.m.] than most people do all day because it’s quiet and the energy’s all low, except mine.” She added, “So I just really get a lot done. I just love the wee hours, I call it.”
Dolly is a self-proclaimed junk food lover (who isn’t?). She told Fox News, “I’m a short little thing with a big, country girl appetite, so I have to really watch it.” For the most part, the singer feasts on low carb meals that leave her feeling vibrant and energized, and light as a feather.
“My best bet is to stay on a low carb because, on a low carb, you can actually eat quite a bit of food of the things you’re allowed,” she explained. But when it’s not low carb, one of her favorite cheat meals is Taco Bell. Bring on the nacho fries!
In 1996, scientists managed to create a clone from an adult mammal’s cell and decided to name it Dolly. But their choice of name wasn’t a random pick. The queen of country herself inspired it! Scientists revealed that Dolly’s groundbreaking career made her the perfect pick for their new animal.
The scientists explained that the sheep was derived from a mammary gland cell and joked that they “couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s.” Dolly, the sheep, sadly passed away after six years from a lung infection.
Dolly hired her brother Bobby to create a replica of their childhood home for Dollywood. But she insisted that he leave it as close as possible to how it looked when they were kids. “So I spent a couple of million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom, so it looked like an outdoor toilet,” the singer dished on The Nate Berkus Show.
Dolly’s mom designed the interior, and most of the house items are original family gems. With floral wallpaper and old family pictures, Dolly’s house is an entertaining blast from the past. If you ever go to Dollywood, make sure to drop by!
When you’re as big as Dolly Parton (and significantly if you grew up poor), it’s hard not to let fame take over your mind. But Dolly told Billboard in 2014 that she still feels like the same little girl from Tennessee. “I’m more successful now than I was then, but I still feel like the same girl. I’m just a working girl,” she explained.
“I never think of myself as a star because, as somebody once said, ‘A star is nothing but a big ball of gas’—and I don’t want to be that,” Dolly joked. We must admit, Dolly is the quintessential example of the phrase “looks can be deceiving.” Despite her flashy appearance, she’s a genuinely humble human being.