Things You Didn't Know About Dolly Parton

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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, Tennessee. 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 that her wardrobe choice left her at risk of getting a sunburn.

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 (via the Daily Mail), "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."

Her 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. 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 Dolly 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 was a big fan of 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. "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 Winfrey'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," Parton 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 allegedly "went after Julia with a vengeance." So much so that he made her cry. But she wasn't the sole target of his reported 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, whom 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, Parton 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. 

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 (via the Independent), "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 — 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," gushing, "They had these big drag queens — I mean they looked great, too, they were prettier than I could ever dream of being." She added with a laugh, "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." 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 actor 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 the 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, Parton touched on the subject again during an appearance on "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 said, adding, "So I thought, 'Well, I'm going to kind of decorate these with some flowers or little butterflies or whatever.'"

She's a 'hog at heart'

Dolly Parton may always look slim and trim, but as she told People in 2018, "I'm a hog at heart. I've been up and down with my weight through the years." It wasn't the first time the country superstar spoke candidly about her waistline. Of her appetite, she previously admitted to gaining as much as 10 lbs. in just 10 days, saying, "My body couldn't hold up under that strain." The star also once confessed, per Vanity Fair, "I tried every diet in the book," but to no avail, going on to quip, "I tried eating the book. It tasted better than most of the diets."

In the end, Parton has settled on an 80-20 diet, which has her cutting down on carbs during the week and indulging on weekends. As EatingWell learned, a typical breakfast for Parton includes coffee with a hefty splash of creamer, along with egg salad and tomato on toasted bread or cucumber, tomato, and cream cheese on a bagel. For lunch, the singer usually relies on frozen homemade low-carb meals, but on her days off, she'll reach for some cornbread or, as she once told The New York Times, "Any kind of potato."

She doesn't just love eating, though, she also loves cooking. Her go-to is southern food, and it's not unusual for Parton to make "gravy and biscuits and fried sausage or fried spam" or her specialty dish: chicken and dumplings. Alternatively, if she's entertaining, she'll prepare roast pork with green beans and fried okra, per the NYT. Yum!

Did Dolly Parton really insure her breasts?

Dolly Parton isn't just known for her music, she's also got a headline-making figure. In fact, her body has sparked its share of stories and rumors, including news that she had a rib removed to achieve her signature cinched look. "Oh, that is so BS!" Parton told Woman's Day in 2014, debunking that myth. "... My waist is little because nothing grows in the shade!" she quipped with a laugh, adding, "Same reason my feet are so small." 

And while she's always been honest about her love of plastic surgery, Parton also uses fashion to her advantage. As Graham Norton revealed in 2017 (via HuffPost), she's so careful with her styling 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."

Jump to January 2022, and Parton set the record straight about yet another falsehood surrounding her curves. While on the "Today" show, she was asked if her breasts were insured, and she quickly shut that notion down as completely false. Explaining how the rumor started, the singer recalled talking about Betty Grable getting her legs insured. "At that time, I said, 'Well, maybe I should get my boobs insured since I'm famous for them.' It was just a joke," she clarified, underscoring, "I didn't do that."

Dolly Parton is a total Lil Nas X stan

Lil Nas X is a big Dolly Parton fan and, as luck would have it, Parton is a Lil Nas X stan. The rapper first revealed his love in a July 2019 tweet, asking, "Y'all think i can get Dolly Parton and Megan Thee Stallion on a Old Town Road remix?" While the collab didn't happen, Parton told Elle it was because she had something better in mind. "I had an opportunity to be part of that [song], but it had done so well with so many people [that] I thought, 'Well, I'll wait and do something later on,'" she explained, joking there's "no point in going down that same Old Town Road. We got other roads to travel.'" The icon also addressed the removal of "Old Town Road" from country charts, saying it made no sense because it's "such a country song." Talking about the importance of artists from other genres contributing to country music, she enthused, "I'm all about acceptance."

With so much mutual appreciation, it came as no surprise when, in September 2021, Lil Nas X covered "Jolene" in BBC Radio One's Live Lounge — and yes, Parton was all for it. Tweeting her approval, she wrote, "I was so excited when someone told me that Lil Nas X had done my song #Jolene. I had to find it and listen to it immediately ... and it's really good." Having not expected the cover, she went on to gush that she was "honored and flattered" by Lil Nas X's song choice.

She transformed her love of baking into a business opportunity

An avid home chef, Dolly Parton turned her love of cooking and baking into a business opportunity in January 2022. Teaming up with Duncan Hines, she launched a unique line of cake mixes and frostings to help fans create their own yummy treats inspired by Southern cooking. A nod to her own family recipes, Dolly's Baking Collection, which hit stores that March, included creamy buttercream and chocolate frostings, as well as banana and coconut cake mixes. 

Speaking of the partnership, Parton said (via USA Today) that she's always been a fan of "that authentic Mom and Pop kind of cooking" and her goal was to bring "that sweet, Southern-style baking experience I enjoy to others." She's also encouraging collaboration in the kitchen. Offering a glimpse into her home life with husband Carl Dean, Parton told People, "I'm a messy cooker, and he's good about cleaning up for me and keeping the stuff cleaned up around me."

This isn't the first time Parton's shared her love of cooking with others. In 2006, she released a cookbook titled "Dolly's Dixie Fixin's," which features 125 recipes from her mom and mother-in-law, as well as from "Dollywood restaurants, Dixie Stampede kitchens, and her own travels and meals on the road." The superstar also launched a range of kitchen accessories (think spatulas and aprons) with Williams Sonoma.

Why Dolly Parton refused the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

In March 2022, Dolly Parton took to Twitter to tell fans she was "extremely flattered and grateful to be nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame," but explained she was declining the nom because, "I don't feel that I have earned that right." Writing that she "must respectfully bow out," she added that she does hope to be considered again in the future, adding, "If I'm ever worthy." 

Parton then teased a possible future rock album, telling fans, "My husband is a total rock 'n' roll freak, and has always encouraged me to do one." The country superstar further justified her stance in an interview with Billboard, saying she didn't expect the nomination because, "I've never thought of myself as being rock and roll in any sense of the word." She also told Fox News, "It kind of would be like putting AC/DC in the Country Music Hall of Fame."

Well, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation didn't agree and said in a statement, per Variety, that "in addition to her incredible talent as an artist, her humility is another reason Dolly is a beloved icon by millions of fans around the world." Confirming they were keeping her nomination in place, the foundation went on to say that rock music developed out of country and R&B, and that inductees are "not defined by any one genre, rather a sound that moves youth culture." 

The inspiration behind her best-selling thriller

Dolly Parton has penned a handful of books, but she took fans by surprise when, in March 2022, she joined forces with James Patterson to publish a thriller. As she told The Tennessean, "I always thought I'd write a novel, or a mystery, at some point in my life, because I do love to tell stories." The result was "Run, Rose, Run," a book about "a young singer-songwriter on the rise and on the run, and determined to do whatever it takes to survive." It used Parton's own career for inspiration and even yielded an accompanying album featuring 12 new tracks.

It may seem like an unusual collaboration, but it's a perfect fit. The idea for the book, which rose to No. 1 on both Amazon and the New York Times best-selling fiction list, came from Patterson, who reached out to the music legend. As he told Fox News, "We liked each other right away and we kind of made the deal right there — no lawyers." They set off on their creative journey soon after and their mutual admiration grew stronger. 

Speaking of the creative process, Parton called herself and Patterson "a magical team" and said, "He'd give me ideas for the songs; I gave him ideas that he expanded on for the characters." They also got along on a personal level. As Patterson told The Star, "We're both from small towns and the odds against us making it were high. Like AnnieLee in the book."

Dolly Parton's net worth might surprise you

Dolly Parton has amassed quite the fortune during her 50-plus year career and her net worth is higher than you might expect. For one, she's earned millions with her music and, to date, has written well over 700 songs, making her country music's most successful female artist ever

What's more, she's also skillfully tapped into the music industry's earning potential by writing songs for others. The most famous example is Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," which was, of course, penned by Parton. As she told Katie Couric in 2016 (via Taste of Country), "A lot of people say that's Whitney's song, and I always say, 'That's fine, she can have the credit, I just want my cash.'" And she sure got a lot of it! The track earned her $10 million in royalties (about $20 million in today's dollars). But she's not just making money from music. Parton has plenty of other ventures, like Dollywood and a successful publishing career, which all come together to form an estimated net worth of $650 million. In 2017, she was the world's sixth highest-paid woman in music, earning $37 million, per Forbes.

Equally impressive is how much wealth she shares. Parton is a passionate philanthropist and founder of the Imagination Library, which provides free books to children. As she told Southern Living, it's "one of the things I'm proudest of, of anything I've ever done," explaining, "If you can read, you can find books on anything you want. You can self-educate even if you can't afford to go to school."