She grew up poor in a log cabin in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 12 and went on to become one of the biggest—and most beloved—country stars of the past five decades. Here, on her 72nd birthday, are 20 snapshots of Dolly Parton.
Her Mom Was Pregnant a Lot
Dolly's mother had 12 children, all by the time she was 35. Dolly Rebecca Parton was born January 19, 1946, in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, making her number four. Dolly's father, a subsistence farmer, paid the doctor who delivered her with a bag of oatmeal.
She Got an Early Start
Dolly was performing on local TV and radio shows when she was 10. The day after she graduated high school, the teenager packed up and moved to Nashville. Her big break came as a regular singer on the "Porter Wagoner Show." When Dolly decided to leave the show and start a solo career, she wrote a song dedicated to Wagoner: "I Will Always Love You."
She Told Elvis to Take a Hike
Presley's manager Colonel Tom Parker told Dolly that The King would cover her song "I Will Always Love You" but only if she signed over half the title's publishing rights to him. Dolly refused and Elvis never recorded the song. Some people said she was nuts to turn down the offer. But when Whitney Houston recorded the song for "The Bodyguard" soundtrack in 1992, Dolly didn't have to share millions in royalties from the humongous hit with anybody.
She’d Rather Be Known as a Writer
Singing and performing is what she's best known for but Dolly started writing when she was 7 and considers herself first and foremost a songwriter. She's actually quite a prolific one, composing over 3,000 songs in her career, including "Jolene," "I Will Always Love You" and "9 to 5," from the first movie she starred in. In 2001, Dolly was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
She’s a One-Man Woman
Dolly married Carl Dean, an asphalt road paver from Nashville, back in 1966. More than 50 years later, they're still together. Carl keeps a low profile, rarely seen and hardly ever accompanying Dolly to events. "We're really proud of our marriage," says Dolly. "It's the first for both of us. And the last." Rumors have linked Dolly to other men but none have been substantiated. A book released in 2017 claimed that she once had "an affair of the heart" with a person who is never named.
She Didn't Like “Whorehouse”
Though rumors swirled about a romance between Dolly and Burt Reynolds while they were filming 1982's "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," the real story is that they didn't get along. Dolly referred to working with Reynolds as a "nightmare." Burt described Dolly as "very self-deprecating—in public."
She’s Not Gay
There was some talk that Dolly and her longtime pal Judy Ogle were lovers. Dolly finally addressed it. "Judy and I have been best friends since we were like in the third and fourth grade," she said. "I love her as much as I love anybody in the whole world, but we're not romantically involved." Besides, she added: "I am not gay, but if I were I would be the first one running out of the closet."
She Won’t Play in Her Own Park
Dolly has owned the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for more than 30 years and yet she still won't go on any of its rides. "I have motion sickness," she says. "I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus." A lot of other people love Dollywood and its rides; the park gets more than 3 million visitors a year and is the state's top tourist attraction.
She’s Had a Lot of Work Done
Dolly isn't secretive about having cosmetic work done. Far from it. "I'm real where it counts," she says. Her famously large breasts were enhanced to a size 40DD decades ago, but when she reached her 70s, she opted for breast reduction surgery. Seems her girls were causing back problems. "My boobs are killing me and I don't know if I can stand the pain any longer," she said at the time.
A Clone Was Named After Her
In 1996, scientists in England cloned a female sheep, the first time a mammal was cloned from an adult mammal's somatic cell. Embryologist Ian Wilmut had this to say about the group's decision to name the breakthrough mammal Dolly: "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's." So there!
She Posed for “Playboy”
In 1978, the men's magazine wanted Dolly on the cover so badly that they allowed her to pose with her clothes on—because she refused to take them off. Smiling and dressed in a bunny costume, Dolly was the first country singer to pose for a "Playboy" cover. "I was trying to market myself … to get in the mainstream," she explained.
She’s Miley Cyrus’s Godmother
Dolly and her husband Carl never had kids of their own, but they helped raise several of her siblings. Dolly is also "honorary godmother" to her friend Billy Ray Cyrus's daughter, Miley. "I've known her since she was a baby," Parton said. "I'm so proud of her. She's just like one of my own." Dolly even appeared as Aunt Dolly in the TV series "Hannah Montana," the show that launched Miley's career.
She Lost a Dolly Look-Alike Contest
Dolly once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest put on by a bunch of drag queens in Santa Monica on Halloween. Spoiler alert: She lost. "I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she explained. Not only did she not win the contest, but "I didn't even come in close, I don't think."
She’s Got a Thing for Butterflies
In addition to an album called "Love Is Like A Butterfly," butterfly images appear on other releases as well. What's more, her amusement park is absolutely lousy with butterfly decorations. In fact, the "W" in the Dollywood sign is even a butterfly. "Butterflies are my symbol," she says. "As a child, I used to get lost chasing them and got my butt whipped for wandering too far off. So we have butterflies everywhere."
She Never Sleeps in Hotels
"I live on my tour bus," she says. The custom-built ride has bunkbeds for its two drivers in front and a suite for Dolly in back, with a closet just for her wigs, a place to say her prayers and a full-sized fridge stocked with foods she takes from home. Her old tour bus, now on display at Dollyland, cost $750,000 to build and had 600,000 miles on it when Dolly retired it.
She Got Threats From the KKK
When Dollywood began actively welcoming LGBT families to the amusement park, Dolly began to receive all kinds of threats from the Ku Klux Klan. But she wouldn't be intimidated. "A family is a family whether you're a gay family or a straight family," she said. "A good Christian wouldn't be judging anyway. We're supposed to love and accept each other."
“Sesame Street” Parodied Her
In 1978, the children's show's 10th season on public television, a new puppet was introduced named Polly Darton. Polly was a country western singer who lived on a big estate. She had purple skin and big blond hair. She was a solo act until the 1990s, when a pair of dog puppets started to accompany Polly as backup singers.
She Had Her Own Pinball Machine
In 1978, Bally Manufacturing set out to design a Dolly Parton pinball machine, but not without problems. When Dolly initially licensed her name and image to the game company, her public persona was pure country, but that changed quickly. Before the pinball game was released, changes had to be made to make Dolly appear more mainstream. The final image of her on the game is the Vegas-style Dolly, not the country one.
Buffy Owes Her Big Time
Dolly's production company Sandollar Entertainment, which she founded in 1986 with her friend Sandy Gallin, bankrolled the cult-classic teen horror series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." In fact, without Dolly's backing, the series might never have made it to TV. Fun fact: Buffy and Dolly share the same birthday. Coincidence?
She Won’t Show You Her Tats
Ever wonder why you never see a picture of Dolly sleeveless? It's because she's been inked on her arms—and elsewhere, for that matter. Dolly admits to having "a few little tattoos," but she won't say what they're of, or where they are. "They're mostly for my husband … and they're not where you can see them," she says. We'll leave it to your imagination.
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