Things You Didn't Know About Dolly Parton

Since the release of her 1967 debut album, titled Hello, I'm Dolly, Dolly Parton has become one of country music's most recognizable stars. As of this writing, she's released close to 90 albums, penned thousands of songs, and starred in a number of hit movies, including Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5. She's also been inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Yup, she's a living legend.

On top of her award-winning and top-selling performances, Parton is also just a refreshingly open book. A favorite guest of many talk show hosts, Parton has provided many incredibly candid — and hilarious — moments, like the time she joked to Wendy Williams that she's so adamant about not being seen without full hair and make-up that she'd "have to really think about" running out of the house in an emergency situation, including "if [her] husband had a heart attack." Oh, Dolly! 

But despite her incredible fame and apparent candor, there are many secrets still to be discovered about the superstar, as her life has been full of surprises. Here are a few things you didn't know about Dolly Parton.

Dolly Parton's husband is a total recluse

Dolly Parton was just one day out of high school when she moved to Nashville, Tenn. The 18-year-old couldn't have imagined the fame she'd find, or the fact she'd meet the love of her life on her first day in the big city. According to Country Living, Parton was outside the Wishy Washy laundromat when a 21-year-old Carl Dean pulled up in his car to tell her she'd "get sunburned in her revealing outfit."

Their connection was instant. "My first thought was I'm gonna marry that girl," Dean said in a 2016 statement celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. As for Parton, she was "surprised and delighted that while he talked to me, he looked at my face (a rare thing for me)." Two years later, Parton and Dean embarked on what would become a somewhat odd lifelong relationship, secretly marrying on Memorial Day in 1966.

That year was also the first and last time Dean attended a red carpet. As the pair drove home, Dean reportedly told Parton, "Dolly, I want you to have everything you want, and I'm happy for you, but don't you ever ask me to go to another one of them dang things again!" She didn't, and he became so reclusive that his existence has been called into question.

"He wants to be mostly around the house," Parton once told People, noting she's the opposite and that's why their marriage works. "He loves that. He's independent. He doesn't need me in his face, and it's the same with me."

Dolly Parton's most famous love song wasn't about romance at all

"I Will Always Love You" may forever be associated with Whitney Houston and The Bodyguard, but did you know it was originally written and recorded by Dolly Parton? Even more surprisingly, it's not a traditional love song. Rather than being inspired by a breakup, Parton penned the track after deciding to leave Porter Wagoner's syndicated TV show to pursue a solo career.

The year was 1973 and, as Parton told CMT in 2011, "I was trying to get away on my own because I had promised to stay with Porter's show for five years. I had been there for seven." Admitting that Wagoner "just wasn't listening to my reasoning for my going," she decided to write him a song in order to express her feelings. "I went home and out of a very emotional place in me at that time, I wrote the song," she recalled. Explaining its true meaning, she told CMT, "It's saying, 'Just because I'm going don't mean I won't love you. I appreciate you and I hope you do great and I appreciate everything you've done, but I'm out of here.'"

Parton played the song for Wagoner the following morning. It brought him to tears and her message finally hit home. "He said, 'That's the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record,'" she recalled, adding, "He did, and the rest is history."

What happened with Dolly Parton's Elvis collab?

Soon after its release, "I Will Always Love You" became a hit for Parton, topping the charts in 1974. Over the years, the track became a staple cover song with everyone from Linda Ronstadt to LeAnn Rimes and, of course, Whitney Houston putting their own spins on the tune. In the '70s, another megastar almost added the song to his repertoire, but Parton shut him down when he asked for too much money.

As Parton recalled in a 2006 CMT interview, Elvis Presley "loved" the song and was getting ready to record a cover version. She was invited to attend the session and was feeling over the moon. "I was so excited. I told everybody I knew," she reminisced. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be.

Before Presley hit the studio, Parton received a call from his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who told her, "Now you know we have a rule that Elvis don't record anything that we don't take half the publishing." Not one to accept a bad business deal, Parton refused. Admitting that she cried all night, she stuck to her guns. These days, she still wonders what it wouldn't have sounded like, but she has no regrets. "When Whitney [Houston's version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland," she laughed.

Dolly Parton did Playboy — fully dressed

Leave it to Dolly Parton to rewrite the rules! When the superstar was invited to grace the cover of Playboy in 1978, she accepted, but with very specific (and surprising) terms. Her decision to appear in the magazine wasn't just historic because she was the first country singer to do so, but also because she did the shoot fully dressed. That's right: Parton refused to appear nude and they still agreed — a true testament to her greatness.

Even so, the songstress received plenty of backlash. As she told CMT, "I think people gasped when I was on the cover of Playboy because they thought I probably had some nude layouts inside, but I did not. I just wore that cute little bunny suit that the girls wear at the club — well, my own version of it — and the little bunny ears and all," she continued, noting that she simply considered the gig to be a great PR opportunity.

That famous cloned sheep is named after Dolly Parton

On July 5, 1996, a team of scientists, embryologists, surgeons, vets, and farm staff working at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute made history when they managed to clone a mammal using an adult cell. In an effort to "develop a better method for producing genetically modified livestock," the team created Dolly the sheep whose body is now on display at the National Museum of Scotland.

Although she wasn't the world's first cloned mammal (that was a sheep created from an embryo cell in 1984 in Cambridge), she was the first to prove that "specialised cells could be used to create an exact copy of the animal they came from." As for her name, lead researcher Dr. Ian Wilmut told the BBC she got her moniker from one very famous country singer. "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's," he revealed. 

Dolly Parton has battled rumors about her sexuality

Over the years, Dolly Parton has dealt with a slew of tabloid rumors alleging that her best friend and personal assistant, Judy Ogle, is actually her secret lover. Parton finally put those rumors to rest publicly in a 2012 interview with The Sun, saying, "Well, people love to talk, people love to gossip. They've said that about Oprah but it's not true," she pointed out, citing Oprah's similar relationship with BFF Gayle King and underscoring the fact that she's not gay.

"Judy and I have been best friends for 64 years, since we were little kids," Parton continued, thinking back to her childhood. "Our ­parents knew each other, we grew up together, we were like ­sisters, became best friends. She was very quiet, I was very outgoing. So we made perfect friends," she said before opening up about her and Ogle's unshakeable bond. "We went all through school together," she recalled. "[Ogle] went to the army when we graduated because she needed the insurance and she needed to help her family and I was trying to make it. As soon as she got out, she came to Nashville and we've been together ever since."

Filming 'Steel Magnolias' was tense

Steel Magnolias was one of the biggest hits of the '80s. The film pretty much made Julia Roberts a superstar, landing her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, but the fledgling A-Lister's time on-set was a nightmare. Sally Field and Shirley MacLaine took a walk down memory lane in 2013 for an American Film Institute event in honor of the movie, and, according to Field (via US Weekly), director Herbert Ross "went after Julia with a vengeance." So much so that he made her cry. But she wasn't the sole target of his bullying. In fact, no one was spared. 

"I remember the day Herb said to Dolly Parton, 'Why don't you take some acting lessons?'" MacLaine noted, as Field added, "You don't say that to Dolly Parton! Dolly Parton is absolutely the funniest, wittiest and filthiest, and she will cut you to ribbons." Which is exactly what Parton did with Ross. As Field revealed, "The stronger ones of the group who were just older and had been there longer would go after him. That meant Shirley and Dolly." 

Do not mess with Dolly Parton's goddaughter

Dolly Parton may never had any kids of her own, but she does have one famous goddaughter who she loves and protects as if she were her child — Miley Cyrus. Case in point: When Cyrus repeatedly made headlines in 2013 for everything from twerking on Robin Thicke to swinging around naked on a wrecking ball, her godmother jumped to her defense.

Speaking with the Evening Standard, the country legend proclaimed, "I've loved her through the years and watched her grow up, and I've seen how smart she is and how talented she is." She continued, "I don't think people really realize yet what a great singer and writer she really is." Adding that she "would never dream of" offering Cyrus unsolicited advice, she said, "If she needs my opinion on something I will surely give it and there have been times we've talked." Parton then went on to justify Cyrus' eyebrow-raising antics, telling the outlet, "I know that she has thought this all through. We'll let her go and do her own thing."

Of course, part of Parton's defense of Cyrus is her own experience with controversy. As she told The Sunday Times, "Back in the day, doing my own things my own way, and dressing sexy and showing my cleavage and all that, I got a lot of criticism. Lots of people thought I was making a mistake and that I was just trashy, which I was." Please never change, Dolly. 

How does Dolly Parton maintain her figure?

Dolly Parton is known for many things, but one of her signature assets is most certainly her tiny waistline. The songstress' figure has always garnered plenty of attention and over the span of her 50-plus year career, she's worked hard to keep it that way.

When British TV show host Graham Norton was asked to pick his favorite guest ever, he chose Parton and revealed just how far she goes to keep that perfect figure perfect. As it turns out, while most singers clip their microphone packs to a belt, Parton has found another ingenious hiding place that won't mess with her overall look — her hair. "Dolly Parton is so tiny, and so proud of her tiny waist, that she has a little pocket built into all her wigs for her microphone pack, so that her waist can stay as tiny as possible," Norton said, joking, "She must have microwaved bits of her brain, but that is more important."

Dolly Parton's 100th birthday will have a big surprise

If you think you've heard every song Dolly Parton has ever released, think again! In 2015, the Country Music Hall of Fame inductee revealed there's one particular track that even her biggest fans have never listened to. And that's because she's hidden it.

Sitting down with Today at Dollywood's DreamMore Resort, Parton showed off a small wooden box, which she used to create a time capsule. "What we're gonna put in this is little pieces from my childhood, from the porch where I used to sit and sing with a tin can for a microphone, and a song I wrote this year called 'My Place in History,'" she said.

To date, no one has been lucky enough to listen to the song (other than Parton, of course) and the world won't get to enjoy it until her 100th birthday. As InStyle reports, whether Parton is around to unlock the box herself or not, her staff has been instructed to release the tune come January 19, 2046.

Jolene is not who you think she is

1973's "Jolene" is a Dolly Parton classic (the track was even inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame), but the titular character isn't who you think she is. Yes, the songstress was inspired by a redheaded bank teller who loved flirting with her husband, but she actually met the real Jolene years before.

Recalling a time from early in her career, Parton told NPR that the song's namesake inspiration was a "beautiful little girl ... probably 8 years old at the time," who wanted an autograph. "She had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes," Parton reminisced. "I said, 'Well, you're the prettiest little thing I ever saw. So what is your name?' And she said, 'Jolene.' And I said, 'Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene.' I said, 'That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I'm going to write a song about that.'"

And so the idea was born, but it wasn't solidified until the flirtatious bank teller came into the picture. As Parton explained during 2014's Glastonbury festival, "I wrote ['Jolene'] years ago when my husband... was spending a little more time with Jolene than I thought he should be. I got rid of that redhead woman in a hurry," she joked, quipping, "Had it not been for that woman I would never have written 'Jolene' and I wouldn't have made all that money, so thank you, Jolene."

She once lost a Dolly Parton lookalike contest

Drag queens love Dolly Parton and, when it comes to impersonating the Queen of Sequins, they don't mess around. Case in point: Parton once entered a Dolly Parton lookalike contest at a gay bar near her home in Los Angeles, Calif. — and lost!

"They had a bunch of Chers and Dollys that year, so I just over-exaggerated — made my beauty mark bigger, the eyes bigger, the hair bigger, everything," she recalled during a 2012 interview with Nightline. "All these beautiful drag queens had worked for weeks and months getting their clothes," she continued. "So I just got in the line and I just walked across [the stage], and they just thought I was some little short gay guy."

Parton opened up about that unbelievable moment again during a 2017 interview on Harry Connick Jr.'s defunct daytime talk show, Harry, saying, "They had these big drag queens — I mean they looked great too, they were prettier than I could ever dream of being," she gushed. "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 laughed. Unfortunately for the actual Parton, the winner was determined by applause.

Dolly Parton's been hiding 'the most beautiful' tattoos

Dolly Parton's figure has always drawn plenty of attention, but in 2012, it was the subject of numerous headlines for a totally unexpected reason. It all started when Parton walked the Joyful Noise red carpet and accidentally revealed what appeared to be a tattoo between her breasts. As Jezebel reported, she initially denied it and claimed the image was altered, but actress Jennifer Saunders confirmed from her personal observation — thanks to an alleged flashing by Parton — that the country legend is indeed heavily tattooed. The outlet noted an interview with Saunders in which she described Parton's breasts and arms being covered in "the most beautiful angels and beautiful butterflies and baskets of flowers in pastel-colored tattoos."

The songstress finally confirmed the ink rumors in 2014, telling Today [via New York Daily News], "I do have a few little tattoos, but they were mostly done to cover scars because I'm so fair." She elaborated, "So it started with that, and I'm not really one to have tattoos, but I do have a few and they're not where you can see them."

In 2019, she touched on the subject again, telling Good Morning America, "I got them to cover scars or things. If I have to get a scar for any reason, I never can kind of get rid of that purple look," she continued. "So I thought, 'Well, I'm going to kind of decorate these with some flowers or little butterflies or whatever.'"