Dolly Parton: The Surprising Life Story of the Queen of Country
Dolly Parton is a living legend — and not just because she helped make Buffy the Vampire Slayer happen. Her songs (and bedazzled outfits) have captured the hearts of generations and her charitable spirit have brightened the lives of millions.
Few things are more impressive than her list of awards — except maybe her incredible hair. But before all of the fame, accolades and legions of adoring fans, the "Queen of Country" weathered a real rags-to-riches tale. Here's Dolly Patron's story.
Dolly Parton was one of 11 children
Dolly Rebecca Parton was born the eighth of her 12 siblings. Since her family didn’t have much money, the doctor who delivered Parton was paid with a bag of cornmeal. Parton’s father worked as a sharecropper, while her mother was a stay-at-home mom.
She grew up in extreme poverty
Dolly Parton may be a superstar now, but she didn’t always live a lavish lifestyle. Parton has always spoken candidly about her life growing up. She has admitted, "The kids peed on me every night. We slept three and four in the bed."
She tragically lost her little brother
Since there were so many siblings in the home, many of the older children had to take care of the younger ones. Parton explained, "My mother, through the years, when we were born, since there were so many of us, used to say, ‘This one’s gonna be your baby. That just meant that you got to take care of it."
As a child Dolly almost lost her toes
Due to the status of Parton’s family, they couldn’t afford to pay a doctor to visit when one of the children got sick. Parton admitted during an episode of the Dr. Oz Show that, "I had jumped across the fence onto a broken mason jar and cut three of my toes, just my little toes on my right foot, almost off, and they were just kind of hanging there."
She has the church to thank for her career
Dolly Parton’s family were devout Christians, as her grandfather was the pastor of the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee. It was there that Parton discovered her love of music. By the time she was six years old, she was already performing in front of crowds at the church.
She was bullied as a child
Dolly Parton admitted that she was often targeted by bullies due to her performances on local television. Her past experiences with bullying inspired her to create a children’s album, I Believe in You.
She had to move after high school
Fresh off the graduation stage, Parton packed up her things and left her small town to move to Nashville, a.k.a "Music City." Although she was a formidable talent in her own right, she decided to work as a songwriter alongside her uncle, Bill Owens.
She was supposed to be a pop singer
At 19 years old, Parton signed with Monument Records, where she was marketed as a "bubblegum" pop singer. Although she released quite a few numbers under this label, only one charted, although it didn’t crack the Billboard Hot 100.
Love at first sight?
When Dolly Parton walked by Carl Dean outside the Wishy-Washy laundromat, in Nashville, it was love at first sight. It was her first day in the city, and Parton caught her future husband’s eye when he was driving by in his white pickup truck.
She almost flopped as an artist
In 1967, musician Porter Wagoner invited Parton to join his organization, which landed her a spot on his popular TV show. Wagoner also got her signed to his label, RCA Victor. Although her next few hits made it on the charts, she didn’t have the success that she and Wagoner were looking for.
The real reason she wears long sleeves
Ahead of her new Netflix series Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, Dolly sat down with ABC News for a special interview called “Dolly Parton: Here She Comes Again!” and, clearly, there are still things to be learned about the icon. Namely, she has tattoos.
She refused a deal with Elvis Presley
When Parton came out with the hit "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out to her with hopes that she would allow Presley to do his own cover of the tune. Parton rebuffed, however, after learned that she would have to surrender half of the song’s publishing rights in the process.
When Dolly met Johnny
Dolly Parton may be a massive celebrity, but that doesn’t mean she can’t have a "celebrity crush." She described her first time meeting Johnny Cash as "truly cathartic." The two were first introduced while singing at the famous Grand Ole’ Opry when she was a young girl.
Her husband rejected her fame
Dolly Parton recalls a dinner in 1966, which was the first and last industry event that she and her husband attended together. She said, "This was my first big record. It went to No. 1 for Bill, and it was BMI’s Song of the Year. So Carl and I got dressed up, he was in a tux, and we drove to the dinner."
Dolly was often accused of having affairs
Dolly Parton is probably used to all the attention she’s received from the media over the years, but there have certainly been some odd rumors that have reared their heads throughout her career. While working on the film, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, there were rumors that Parton was having an intense affair with Burt Reynolds.
It’s assumed that Dolly and her husband have an open marriage
With all the rumors of affairs becoming non-stop, people began to wonder about Dolly Parton and husband, Carl Dean’s marriage. The media has made assumptions that the pair are in an open marriage since she has said, "People always ask me if I’ve had extramarital affairs, and you can draw your own conclusions."
She sank into a depression and her marriage almost ended
Eventually, the weight of Dolly Parton’s sorrows began to weigh heavily on her shoulders. She admitted that soon after her partial hysterectomy, she sank into a depression and began ignoring her professional duties.
She credits her dog, Popeye, for saving her life
Dolly has been very open about her struggle with depression, and she recalls how she reached her lowest low. She was holding a weapon she kept for home safety with the intent of doing harm to herself when she heard her dog, Popeye, the French bulldog, come into the room.
She branched out of entertainment by opening Dollywood
Dollywood is a theme park owned by both Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment that opened in 1986. It is also the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee. Along with being home to amusement park rides, Dollywood also hosts concerts and musical events every year.
Dolly helped bring fictional feminist icon Buffy the Vampire Slayer to life
By now you’ve gathered that Dolly is an icon, but did you know she was partially responsible for bringing another icon to life? That icon would be Buffy, as in the fictional vampire slayer. Back in the ‘80s, Dolly and her former manager Sandy Gallin founded Sandollar Productions, which produced the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Her shapely figure has attracted a lot of media attention over the years
Over the years, Parton has garnered attention for undergoing a considerable amount of plastic surgery. When asked on The Oprah Winfrey Show why she’s had so many surgeries over the years, she said that the surgery was necessary in order to keep up with her image.
She’s had quite an extensive acting career
Dolly Parton began with her own show during the 1970s and 1980s, but she made an effort to venture into film to expand her audience base. Her first film (and perhaps her most famous) was the comedy film 9 to 5. The film became an instant hit and was noted for its representation of working women and the discrimination they face in the workplace.
She had to have a partial hysterectomy after she passed out on stage
During the early 1980s, she began experiencing severe gynecological problems. Doctors told Parton that she would have to have a partial hysterectomy, thinking it would fix the problems, but it also meant that she could never have children.
Although she loves children, she doesn’t regret not having her own
Dolly Parton’s bond with children is undeniable, but yet she and her husband have never had kids of their own. According to Parton, this is the way it was meant to be. During an interview with the Today show, Parton said, "God has a plan for everything."
The song ‘Jolene’ was about a bank teller who had a crush on her husband
The song "Jolene" continues to be one of Parton’s most iconic songs. Although the name "Jolene," belonged to an eight-year-old girl who was a fan of Parton’s, the song itself was inspired by a woman who had a crush on her husband. Parton told NPR, "She got this terrible crush on my husband."
She received death threats over Dollywood ‘Gay Day’
Dolly Parton has said over the years that she has received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan over her "Gay Day" held at her theme park, Dollywood. In fact, Dolly Parton has become a significant LGBTQ figure over the years.
She has always been a philanthropist
Dolly Parton has been supporting many charities since the mid-1980s, including her own charity, the Dollywood Foundation. Parton has also worked hard to raise money for causes such as the American Red Cross, and HIV/AIDS-related causes.
She has a cloned sheep named after her
Dolly the Sheep made headlines when she was created, as she was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. Born in 1997, Dolly went on to have a full life until she passed in 2003 when she developed tumors in her lungs and severe arthritis.
Dolly Parton has another famous relative
The two may not be related by blood, but Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus’ godmother. Dolly Parton has been connected to the Cyrus family since she met Billy Ray Cyrus during their tour after the release of his single "Achy Breaky Heart" in 1992.
She’s won Guinness World Records
Dolly Parton’ s list of accomplishments goes on and on, and one of her titles includes being a world record holder. In 2018, Parton was recognized for breaking the record for Most decades with a Top 20 hit on the Billboard U.S. Country Songs Chart (six), and most hits on the U.S. Hot Country Songs chart by a female artist.
She refuses to sleep in hotels while touring
With Dolly always traveling, it may seem odd that she never wants to rest her head in nearby hotels. However, don’t be confused, it isn’t that she doesn’t like hotels. She just doesn’t see a use for them when she has her comfy tour bus.
The reason she wears wigs
If there is one thing that comes to mind when Dolly Parton is brought up, it’s hair. Parton’s hair is known for being large and in charge, but there’s a secret underneath all that hairspray. You may have thought that the locks belonged to Parton herself, but her luscious locks are actually a wig.
She’s stopped trying to disguise herself
Dolly Parton admits that she used to try to disguise herself in public saying, "I remember once I was going Christmas shopping. I did my makeup completely different, with dark eyebrows, and wore a short black wig, and wore different clothes than I would normally wear.
The 2019 CMAs prove how easy it is to fall in love with her all over again
Dolly is known for her stage presence — and she certainly lit up the 2019 Country Music Awards (CMAs) alongside co-hosts Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood. To start the night, a star-studded cast of women joined Dolly on stage to sing a medley of hits in honor of Loretta Lynn.
Dolly Parton’s hometown has a statue of her
Over the years, Parton has given a lot back to her hometown. Visitors to Sevierville, TN, have the opportunity to take a photo with the big, bronze statue that stands in front of the courthouse. The statue is the Sevier County’s way of saying thanks to the queen of the Smoky Mountains.
Dolly will get her own SiriusXM channel & Netflix program
What do Elvis, The Beatles, Pearl Jam and now Dolly Parton all have in common? These musical acts all have dedicated channels on SiriusXM. On Monday, November 18 the satellite radio service will launch Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings Radio.