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10 Things You Might Not Know About Dolly Parton

by Lorna Wallace
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Country music singer and songwriter Dolly Parton is an iconic figure. To start with, there are her numerous hit songs that are known worldwide, from “9 to 5” to “Jolene” to “I Will Always Love You.” Then there’s Dollywood, her popular theme park, and her movie appearances, most notably in 9 to 5 (1980) and Steel Magnolias (1989).

However, fewer people know that she also co-wrote a thriller novel with James Patterson called Run, Rose, Run (2022) and launched a line of pet apparel called Doggy Parton. In that spirit, here are 10 lesser-known facts about Dolly Parton.

Related: 10 Celebrities That Have Cult Followings

10 Parton Modeled Her Look After the “Town Tramp”

The Oprah Conversation — Dolly Parton Talks About Her Iconic Look | Apple TV+

Parton is just as well known for her over-the-top style as she is for her music. Her extravagant look was actually based on a woman that she saw around her small town as a child. The woman, with her big hair, heavy makeup, and high heels, was known as the “town tramp.” Parton told Wired, “I thought she was so beautiful. And everybody used to say, ‘Oh, she ain’t nothin’ but trash.’” Not one to be put off by other people’s opinions, even at a young age, Parton declared, “Well, that’s what I’m gonna be when I grow up—trash!”

Parton describes herself as “not a natural beauty,” but she always wanted to be pretty and flashy. In response to people who say that less is more, she replies, “No, less is less, more is more, and more is good for me.”[1]

9 Parton’s Privacy Over Her Marriage Has Led to Rumors About Her Love Life

Dolly Parton Shares Why Her Husband of 54 Years Chooses to Stay Out of the Spotlight (Exclusive)

Parton has been married to Carl Thomas Dean since 1966, but he’s not in the public eye. So that has led to a conspiracy theory that he doesn’t actually exist. “A lot of people have thought that through the years because he does not want to be in the spotlight at all,” Parton told Entertainment Tonight. “It’s just not who he is. He’s like, a quiet, reserved person.”

An imaginary husband isn’t the only rumor that has been spread about Parton’s love life, though. She apparently had an “affair of the heart” in the early eighties, which led to her almost committing suicide. It has been speculated that this affair was with her bandleader, Gregg Perry, but that remains unconfirmed.

Rumors have also circulated that Parton is actually gay and is in a romantic relationship with her lifelong best friend, Judy Ogle. “So people say that—because you can’t really have a great relationship with a woman,” Parton retorts. “I’m not gay, but I have so many gay friends, and I accept everybody for who they are.”[2]

9 She Is Miley Cyrus’s Godmother

Miley Cyrus Shares the Best Advice ‘Fairy Godmother’ Dolly Parton Has Given Her (Exclusive)

Billy Ray Cyrus credits his music career to Dolly Parton, stating, “I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without her. Keep in mind, she was there in 1992 when I went from living in my Chevy Beretta to recording my first album. Pretty soon after that, I was opening her shows!”

The pair grew close over the years, and Cyrus even asked Parton to be the godmother to his daughter, Miley (though her birth name was Destiny Hope). Miley Cyrus calls Parton “Aunt Dolly,” while Parton refers to herself as Cyrus’s “Fairy Godmother.” Parton even appeared as Aunt Dolly on Cyrus’s show, Hannah Montana.[3]

7 She Once Lost in a Dolly Parton Look-a-Like Contest

Dolly Parton Does A Bad Dolly Parton Impersonation

One of Parton’s anecdotes is that she once entered a drag queen look-a-like contest as herself 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 recalls.

Despite being the real deal, albeit even more exaggerated than usual, Dolly didn’t win the contest. No one—not the other contestants, judges, or audience—was aware that she was the real Dolly Parton. “They just thought I was some little short gay guy,” she says before adding that she “got the least applause.” She may not have won, but she certainly got a funny story from the experience.[4]

6 She Started Dollywood to Give Back to Her Community

Dolly Parton shares why she doesn’t ride the rides at Dollywood

Dollywood wasn’t created because Parton wanted her own personal theme park. Instead, it was because she wanted to give back to Sevier County, Tennessee, where she was born and raised. She told Vanity Fair, “I used to think early on in my career, ‘If I ever get to be the star I want to be, as successful as I want to be, I want to do something great for my people, back home.’” She decided on a theme park because, growing up poor, she thought that the county fair “was the greatest thing on Earth.”

Opened in 1986, Dollywood is the largest employer in Sevier County, currently providing 4,500 jobs. Not only that, but Parton uses the park’s profits to fund some of her charity projects via the Dollywood Foundation.

Despite giving her name to the theme park, Parton doesn’t actually ride any of the rides when she visits. “I have a tendency to get motion sickness. Also, I’m a little bit chicken,” she admits. “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.”[5]

5 Parton Loves Giving to Charity

Dolly Parton says she founded her Imagination Library charity to honor her dad

Speaking of the Dollywood Foundation, let’s dive into Parton’s philanthropy throughout the years. One of her goals was to decrease high school dropout rates in Sevier County, which sat at over 30%, so in 1991 she launched the Buddy Program. Seventh and eighth graders were paired up, and if they both finished high school, they were given $500. The dropout rate dropped to just 6%.

But that was just the start. In 1995, she started the Imagination Library, inspired by her father’s inability to read and write. She sent free books (over 200 million to date) to children from birth until they were five, which led to her becoming known as “The Book Lady.” She says this project meant more to her father “than the fact that I had become a star and worked my butt off.”

Parton also funds college scholarships for Sevier County high school students, and she has raised money for families who were affected by wildfires and floods in Tennessee. And she has donated millions to medical facilities and research, including donating $1 million to Vanderbilt University to help develop Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. In 2022, she very deservedly received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.[6]

4 She Might Not Have Actually Written “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” on the Same Day

Dolly Parton reveals why she wrote hit song ‘Jolene’ | 60 Minutes Australia

It’s long been thought that two of Parton’s biggest hits—”Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You”—were written on the same day. In 2017, Parton herself attested to this burst of creativity, relating on the Bobby Bones Show that everyone asked her, “What was you taking? That was a good writing day.”

But then, in 2022, Parton went on the WorkLife with Adam Grant podcast and said, “I don’t really know if they were written in the same night.” She elaborated that “when we found an old tape, they were on the same cassette,” which means that they could have actually been recorded “a few days apart.” Either way, the two hits were written within a very short span of time.

“I Will Always Love You” was inspired by her love-hate business relationship with Porter Wagoner, who she worked with on The Porter Wagoner Show and was leaving to strike out on her own. Parton actually refused to let Elvis Presley record a version of the song because his manager, Colonel Parker, wanted half of the publishing rights.

The lyrics of “Jolene” sound similarly serious, but the inspiration is actually far more light-hearted. Firstly, Parton met a young fan named Jolene and thought it was a beautiful name. The actual story of the song was inspired by a flirty bank teller who had a crush on Parton’s husband. The country singer wasn’t threatened by their flirtation as the song might suggest, though; instead, she describes it as “a running joke between us.”[7]

3 She Was an Uncredited Producer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Sarah Michelle Gellar Confirms Dolly Parton Was a Secret Producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In 1986, Parton and her former manager, Sandy Gallin, founded Sandollar Productions together, the production company that would go on to bring Buffy the Vampire Slayer to life. While Gallin’s name appears in the show’s credits, Parton’s does not, and as a result, her involvement in Buffy was kept fairly quiet. The company also produced films such as Father of the Bride (1991) and Sabrina (1995).

In a 2023 interview with Jimmy Fallon, Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar spoke about Parton’s involvement. She said, “We never saw her,” and assumed that “she doesn’t know who I am.” But Parton was keeping tabs on Buffy and, according to Gellar, later “complimented the show and my performance.”[8]

2 Parton Has a Secret Song Locked Away in a Time Capsule

Dolly Parton Has A Secret Song Buried In A Time Capsule & She Wants To Dig It Up

Dolly Parton has written and recorded a song that won’t be heard for more than 20 years. A copy of the song has been placed in a “Dream Box” time capsule at Dollywood. The singer—who is currently 77 and quipped that she might die before it’s released—says, “I figure it’ll probably disintegrate, probably nobody ever hears it. That’s what bothers me, to think that it’s gonna be a song that nobody’s ever gonna hear if it rots in there before they open it.”

Parton declared the song would be unleashed on the world when she’s 99, but a note next to the box itself declares that it will be released on her 100th birthday, which is January 19, 2046. The song is called “My Place in History,” and Parton believes “it’s a really good song.”[1]

1 Dolly the Sheep, the World’s First Successfully Cloned Mammal, Named After Dolly

Incredible science behind cloning Dolly the sheep | 60 Minutes Australia

On July 5, 1996, scientists at Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, successfully cloned a mammal for the first time. The birth of the sheep was a momentous occasion in history, and when it came to naming the animal, the scientists had a sense of humor. “Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell, and we couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s,” explains lead scientist Dr. Ian Wilmut.

Dolly the sheep isn’t the only thing to have been named after Dolly Patron, or more specifically, her breasts. The distinctive arches of General W.K. Wilson Jr. Bridge in Alabama and Hernando De Soto Bridge in Memphis have led to both being nicknamed “the Dolly Parton Bridge.” The U.S. Army unofficially dubbed the T-72A tank “Dolly Parton” and the T-72BI version “Super Dolly Parton” because of the look of the thickened armor around the turret.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen