Dolly Parton once famously said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose,” and boy, has she ever done just that. There are a few things you can say about Parton, and one of them is that she’s never been less than herself—she is completely authentic. In being so honest and true, Parton has become more than just a country icon, she’s also become a music and movie legend. Here are 42 larger-than-life facts about Dolly Parton.
1. Four Out of Twelve
Parton was born in 1946 in Pittman Center, Tennessee. She was the fourth child born to Avie Lee Caroline and Robert Lee Parton Sr, who would go on to have 12 kids in total. Parton was born in the family’s one-room cabin.
2. Hard Working Papa
Dolly Parton didn’t grow up wealthy—quite the opposite. Parton herself described her family as “dirt poor,” and she wasn’t kidding. Her parents were working class people. Her mother was a homemaker for the family, taking care of the 12 kids. Her father was a sharecropper, a farmer, and did side jobs to help make ends meet.
Despite being unable to read, Dolly thinks of her father as one of the smartest people she’s ever met.
3. Tennessee Mountain Home
When Parton was young the family moved from the cabin on the shores of Little Pigeon River to a farm on Locust Ridge. This is the beloved family home of her youth and the inspiration for her song “My Tennessee Mountain Home.” Unable to part with it, Parton eventually bought her childhood home in the 1980s.
4. Family Names
Parton’s middle name—Rebecca—is taken from her great-great-grandmother.
5. That’s So Corny!
As payment for bringing Dolly into the world, the doctor who delivered her was paid one bag of cornmeal.
6. Church Girl
Parton was brought up in a Pentecostal church where her grandfather was the pastor. Her earliest performances were at her church. She started singing in them at the age of 6, and at 7 she would accompany her songs on a homemade guitar. By the time she was 8, her uncle gifted her with her first professionally-made guitar.
7. Well Awarded
Parton has a total of eight Grammy awards, though she’s been nominated 47 times. She held the title of most nominations of any female recording artist in history up until 2014 when Beyoncé snagged the title from her. She also was nominated for a Tony in 2009 for 9 to 5: The Musical.
8. Moving On Up
As soon as Parton had her diploma in hand in 1964, she moved to Nashville and kicked off her career in earnest. She got her start as a songwriter, writing with her uncle Bill Owens. During this time, Parton wrote two top 10 hits: “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” sung by Bill Phillips in 1966, and “Fuel to the Flame” sung by Skeeter Davis in 1967.
Parton’s songs were sung by country legends like Kitty Wells and Hank Williams Jr. in the late 60s.
9. Pop Star
In 1965, Parton was signed by Monument Records. She really wanted to release country music. The record label didn’t see Parton as a country singer, and instead wanted her to record pop songs. They didn’t think her voice was the right fit for the genre. Her only pop single that charted was “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby,” and it didn’t even make it into the top 100.
10. Country Girl
Parton finally got a chance to record country music after her song “Put it Off Until Tomorrow” placed on the country charts at number 6. Willing to take a risk on Parton, she recorded “Dumb Blonde,” which went on to reach 24 on the country charts. Following up the success of “Dumb Blonde,” she recorded her next country single, “Something Fishy,” which went on to place at number 17 on the country charts.
Turns out Parton had a voice fit for country—who would’ve thought?
11. This Blonde Didn’t Write This Song
“Dumb Blonde” was one of the few songs sung by Parton in the late-60s that she didn’t write herself. The song was in fact written by Curly Putman.
12. That Lady is a Star
The most recent honor Parton has received came just this year, in 2019. She will be getting a second star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Parton received her first star all the way back in 1984, and in 2019 she will finally be awarded another. This time she’ll be honored with a star alongside Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.
Parton is the first woman in this century to get two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and only the second one over all—the first being Diana Ross.
13. Hit Makers
Porter Wagoner talked his label—RCA Victor—into taking a chance and signing Parton. The label did so under the condition that Parton’s first single be a duet with Wagoner. The pair recorded a remake of folk singer Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing on My Mind” that hit the country top 10. For the next six years, all duets by the pair would hit the top 10 without fail.
In 1968, the pair would win Vocal Group of the Year from the Country Music Association.
14. Struggling Solo
While Parton was putting out top 10 hit after top 10 hit with Wagoner, her early solo career wasn’t doing so hot. Her first solo single was “Just Beacause I’m a Woman” and it only reached 17 on the charts. For the next three years, Parton would release top 10 duets with Wagoner, and even songs that would later become classic Dolly Parton hits like “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)” struggled on the charts.
Wagoner talked her into recording “Mule Skinner Blues,” and finally she had a top 10 success! “Mule Skinner Blues” went to number three on the country charts, and over the next few years, she was a chart-topping success.
15. Oh Jolene, We’re in it Now!
Parton released “Jolene” in 1973, which would go on to top both the country charts and our hearts. “Jolene” was such a hit for Parton that it even went on to make it to the Billboard Hot 100, and broke Parton in over in the UK—climbing to number seven in the UK charts.
16. Is There a Doctor in the House?
Parton was granted an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2009. It was only the second honorary doctorate the university has ever given out. They felt that considering all of Dolly’s achievements and her lifelong dedication to education, that she deserved it, and who could disagree?
17. Fightin’ Words
Parton’s song “Rocky Top” is the unofficial school fight song at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
18. A Good Night
Parton wrote both of her most iconic songs, “Jolene,” and “I Will Always Love You,” on the same night.
19. Hello Dolly!
Parton had her own variety show—Dolly!—which ran from 1976 to 1977 and featured musical guests like Rose Maddox, Kitty Wells, Olivia Newton-John, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt.
20. Bright Lights of Dollywood
Parton invests a lot of money in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee through The Dollywood Company. She owns a dinner theater called Dolly Parton’s Stampede, a waterpark called Dollywood’s Splash Country, and the Dream More Resort and Spa. Easily the most famous of Parton’s businesses in Pigeon Forge is the Dollywood theme park.
Dollywood is the 24th most popular theme park in America and hosts some three million tourists a year.
21. Dolly On Your TV
Dolly Parton almost had a sitcom in the 90s. She shot six episodes for the sitcom Heavens to Betsy, but it was ultimately scrapped to make the Dolly Parton movie of the week Unlikely Angel. Not long after that, she shot a pilot for Mindin’ My Own Business, which would have featured Parton playing a caterer to the stars.
Unfortunately for us, we’ll never know what that show would have been like, as not even the pilot was aired.
22. Protecting Her Assets
Parton’s breasts are insured for $300,000 apiece, for a total of a whopping $600,000 dollars.
The world’s very first cloned animal—a sheep named Dolly—is named for Parton.
24. A Country Icon
Parton has been inducted into a grand total of 15 various halls of fame, including the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Small Town of America Hall of Fame, the East Tennessee Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame twice, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and the Happiness Hall of Fame.
25. Dolly’s Dolly
Parton modeled her look—the blonde hair, the red lips, the bombshell body—after her town’s local woman of ill repute. Parton once said of this woman, “There was this woman, we won’t call her names, but she was beautiful. I had never seen anybody, you know, with the yellow hair all piled up and the red lipstick and the rouge and the high heeled shoes, and I thought, ‘This is what I want to look like.'”
Parton actually had the chance to play her inspiration in her NBC made for TV movie, Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love.
26. Is She or Isn’t She?
From time to time, it’s been speculated that Parton is involved with her best friend Judy Ogle. Parton categorically denies the pair are involved, saying, “I love her as much as I love anybody in the whole world, but we’re not romantically involved.” As far as Parton figures, people just can’t understand people being close and not being in a relationship.
It is worth noting that Parton has been married to her husband Carl Dean since 1966.
27. Losing Look-A-Like
Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-a-like contest where she went up against drag queens who impersonated her. She entered the contest in secret and no one questioned her, they just thought she was a drag queen like everyone else. Parton lost a contest where the only goal was to look like Dolly Parton.
28. One Small Step for Dolly
Astronaut Charles Duke listened to a Dolly Parton cassette tape on his spaceflight to the moon.
29. Periodic Table of Parton
Rumor has it that physicist Richard Feynman proposed calling quarks—an elementary particle that makes up matter—partons, after Dolly Parton herself.
30. What a Way to Make a Living
One of Parton’s most famous acting roles was in the movie 9 to 5, where she plays a secretary out to get revenge on her handsy boss. Parton was nominated for two Golden Globes for her role, proving she isn’t just a music powerhouse, she’s a great actress as well!
31. She’s Got Dreams They’ll Never Take Away
Parton also wrote and performed the iconic title song “9 to 5” for the movie. For writing “9 to 5,” Parton received an Academy Award nomination, won two Grammys, and saw it reach number one on the Hot 100. That’s not to mention that it was number 78 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest songs in movies over the past 100 years.
32. Expanding Imaginations
Being a world-famous country singer, actress, and owner of a theme park isn’t enough for Parton, she’s also a philanthropist. While Parton says her father was one of the smartest people she ever knew, he was illiterate, and that is the inspiration behind her Imagination Library. Growing up in poverty, Parton knows firsthand that there are families that struggle to put food on tables, much less books in the hands of little kids.
So she started a program that’s still running today—it mails books to children in need around the globe. While it started in her little Tennessee community, the Imagination Library now sends books to kids in need out across America, Canada, the UK, Australia, and the Republic of Ireland. They’ve sent over 120 million books, an impressive feat, since 1995, when the charity was founded.
33. Runs in the Family
Parton’s brother Floyd was also a songwriter. He wrote a couple of songs recorded by Dolly, such as “Nickels and Dimes”, and the country legend’s last number one hit “Rockin’ Years.”
34. Building Bridges
Down on Interstate 65 there’s a bridge across the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta officially called the General W.K. Wilson Jr. Bridge. Locals call it the Dolly Parton Bridge though, as with two large arches the bridge appears to resemble Parton’s famous pair of assets.
35. Going Strong
Parton’s full discography of all the songs she’s written and sung is almost at a massive grand total of 800 songs. And she’s still got time to write more!
36. Best of the Best
Parton’s second Golden Globe nomination came for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which she stared in with Burt Reynolds. Parton adapted her hit “I Will Always Love You” for the film.
37. Larger than Life
Parton just hasn’t been inducted into Halls of Fame around the country. In 2004, she was honored by the Library of Congress by being named a living legend. Not bad for a girl who grew up in the backwoods of Tennessee!
38. Tough as Steel
Parton was also one of the stars of Steel Magnolias, a movie based on the play of the same name. Steel Magnolias was a box office hit, staying in the top 10 movies at the box office for 16 weeks! Apparently, the director was very harsh with his actresses, even going so far as to tell Parton to take some acting lessons.
Her co-star Sally Field stuck up for her, saying in an interview with Us Weekly, “You don’t say that to Dolly Parton. Dolly Parton is absolutely the funniest, wittiest and filthiest, and she will cut you to ribbons.” According to Field, while on the set of Steel Magnolias, Parton as one of the veteran entertainers of the group would stick up for newcomer Julia Roberts.
39. Started Young
Dolly Parton got her start singing in church before she moved into performing on the radio as a child. At the ripe old age of 10, she was performing on The Cast Walker Show—the talk show of a prominent Tennessee businessman and politician in Knoxville, Tennessee. When she was 13, she recorded her first single, “Puppy Love.” Parton also took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry for the first time at 13 where she met the infamous man in black—Johnny Cash!
Cash instantly recognized the talent in the young Parton, and told her she should follow her dreams and keep on singing.
40. So Long Norma Jean!
In 1967, Parton replaced country singer Norma Jean on The Porter Wagoner Show, at the invitation of the Porter Wagoner himself. At the start of her career on the show, the audience wasn’t a big fan of Parton. When she would come out to perform they’d chant for Norma Jean in the audience. Parton and Wagoner refused to give up though and worked to win the audience over.
This was the start of a beautiful partnership between Wagoner and Parton, who would go on to champion Parton in her music career.
41. Moving On
As Parton became an increasingly successful solo artist, she decided it was time to strike out on her own. Her final duet album with Wagoner—Say Forever You’ll Be Mine—was released in 1975. Parton wrote a song about her professional break from Wagoner, a little song you’ve maybe heard of, titled “I Will Always Love You.” It went on to hit number one on the country charts.
42. Thanks, but No Thanks, Elvis!
The King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley, wanted to record a cover of Parton’s song. As soon as Dolly got word of it, she went around telling everyone that Presley wanted to record her song, her excitement was through the roof. Right up until she realized that having Presley record her song meant he’d take half of her publishing rights—despite the fact that it was already written, published, and a success with Parton singing it.
In one of the most heartbreaking moments of her career, she turned him down, wanting to leave the money the song would make for her family. Though she has always wondered how amazing the Presley version would have sounded, Parton doesn’t regret it. Now she jokes that with the royalties she’s made of Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” that she’s “made enough money to buy Graceland.”
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17