When it comes to celebrities, there are few as instantly recognisable as Dolly Parton. With her huge blonde hair, sequinned jumpsuits and frosted lip gloss, the bubbly country singer has cultivated an image that is known around the world.
Not only that, but whenever stories hit the headlines about Dolly Parton, they almost always focus on her good deeds, her charity work and her kindness. Even more than her music, Parton is known for single-handedly increasing the literacy rate in her home state, helping to fund a vaccine and secretly being involved in getting Buffy the Vampire Slayer on to our TV screens (it’s true!).
Today we’re honouring the world’s favourite country star by telling you 20 facts you might not have known about Dolly Parton!
20. She’s Miley Cyrus’ godmother
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If you’ve ever seen the Disney show Hannah Montana, you’ll know that Dolly Parton often shows up in episodes, calling herself Miley’s Aunt Dolly.
Like a lot of other details of the show, this joke was actually based in truth, since Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus’ godmother in real life.
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Miley’s dad Billy Ray Cyrus and Parton have been friends for decades, owing to their shared love of country music.
Dolly recently said in an interview about Miley: “I’m so proud of her, love her, and she’s just like one of my own.”
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Dolly even came out publicly to support Miley Cyrus in her immediate post-Disney years, when Cyrus made headlines for her controversial outfits and behaviour.
When asked if she approved of Cyrus’ scandalous new attitude, Parton said: “I got to do it my way, why shouldn’t she do it her way?”
19. Her breasts are insured for $600,000
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Almost all the musical artists that we consider legends have a signature look, whether it’s Elvis’ slicked up hair or Cher’s Bob Mackie gowns.
Dolly Parton’s look may have evolved over the years, but it can be boiled down to a few things: white jumpsuits, rhinestones and big, blonde hair.
If you ask Dolly Parton herself though, she would probably say that the most important component of her trademark style are what she calls her “girls”.
Dolly Parton has said that her breasts are an essential part of her persona, as they give her something to “hide behind”. Essentially, by identifying her public brand with her boobs, her own personality remains a little bit shielded.
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Parton views her assets as such an integral part of her career and look that each boob is insured for $300,000.
That means Parton is carrying around $600,000 worth of value on her person at all times, even if she doesn’t take her purse out with her.
18. She once lost a Dolly Parton lookalike contest
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Dolly Parton has written and released hit songs, toured around the world, built a theme park and committed herself to helping to eliminate American illiteracy.
In short, it seems like there is almost nothing that Dolly Parton can’t do, except maybe dye her hair a different colour.
With that said, the one thing Dolly Parton actually seems to struggle with is looking enough like herself compared to the image people have of her.
When Dolly Parton decided to compete in a Dolly lookalike contest against a group of drag queens, she simply exaggerated her normal make-up and thought that would be enough.
Unfortunately for Parton, not only did no-one realise she was actually the real deal, but she also walked away with a very low score.
Compared to a room full of drag queens, the watching crowd concluded that Dolly Parton looked nothing like Dolly Parton.
17. Parton’s first label wouldn’t let her record country music because they thought she had the wrong voice for it
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Dolly Parton was signed to Monument Records in 1965 and was certain from the beginning that she wanted to release country music.
It seems almost impossible to imagine now, but the label actually discouraged her, as they believed she looked more like a pop star.
Dolly Parton’s look was not the only problem, as her label was also convinced that Parton did not have the correct voice for country music.
In fact, Parton was only allowed to release a country single after her only pop song, Happy, Happy Birthday Baby, failed to break the Billboard Hot 100.
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Even once Parton was allowed to take a chance on a solo country career, it took a few singles for her to hit her stride and move up the charts.
It took until 1974 for Parton to get a number one single that wasn’t a duet with another artist, and by then her star status was cemented.
16. She’s ‘too chicken’ to ride the rides at Dollywood
Plenty of musicians have become stars, but not many have become famous enough to sustain their own theme park.
Parton opened Dollywood in 1986 as part of her ongoing mission to invest in her home town of Pigeon Forge.
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The bustling attraction now draws over a million guests a year and is one of the biggest employers in her whole home state of Tennessee.
One draw for guests is the huge selection of roller-coasters, but it might surprise you to know that Parton herself has never set foot on one.
Why? Well, aside from the motion sickness, she also doesn’t want to risk messing up her look.
Speaking about the decision to avoid her own rides, Parton said: “I’m a little bit chicken. With all my hair I got so much to lose, like my wig or my shoes. I don’t like to get messed up.”
15. She wakes up at 3 am every day
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Dolly Parton is one of the busiest celebrities out there, and the secret to accomplishing as much as she does in a day is actually pretty simple.
You might think you get up early, but chances are you don’t get up as early as Dolly Parton, who wakes up at 3 am every day to maximise her productivity.
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While the rest of the world is snoozing, Parton is up and at it at 3:00 every morning, in order to meditate and pray before starting work.
Her schedule means she also goes to bed pretty early, so you’re unlikely to catch her at any wild showbiz parties.
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Speaking about her morning routine in an interview, Parton said: “I get up, I do my little meditations, I do my little spiritual work. I do more work between 3:00 AM and 7:00 AM than most people do all day.”
She went on to explain why she loves getting up so early, saying “because it’s quiet and the energy’s all low, except mine. So I just really get a lot done. I just love the wee hours, I call it.”
14. She wrote I Will Always Love You and Jolene in the same night
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Dolly Parton has had a lot of hits over the course of her career, but I Will Always Love You and Jolene no doubt rank among her most popular songs.
What’s incredible about these two hits, in particular, is that they were probably written in the same night… even if Parton can’t quite remember.
The reason we know that both I Will Always Love You and Jolene were written close together is that they were both recorded on the same cassette tape, and Parton has been known to fill a whole cassette in one writing session.
So it’s very likely that the two songs were brought into existence back to back, or at the very least one after another.
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Unfortunately, the original tape no longer exists, even if the original recordings were saved by Parton.
Parton digitised a lot of her old recordings as the tape began to decay, and she rediscovered a lot of details about the recording process that way.
13. Parton’s parents paid the doctor who delivered her with a sack of oatmeal
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Nowadays, Dolly Parton is one of the most successful and glamorous music stars out there, but her life wasn’t always quite so idyllic.
Parton has described her childhood in interviews as happy, but has always noted that her family used to be very poor.
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Parton grew up with 11 siblings and, when she was born, her parents paid the doctor who delivered her with a sack of oatmeal.
Her childhood home lacked both electricity and plumbing, and featured an outdoor toilet, which Parton has said that she’s actually pretty nostalgic about.
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Parton is obviously grateful to be out of hardship, but she has remained very connected to her past.
Parton has even spent millions of her own money refurbishing her own family home, in order to make it look exactly like it did when she lived there.
12. She’s been married to her husband for 50 years
Celebrities get a bad reputation for a lot of things, in particular, quite often, for not being able to maintain long-term relationships.
Many famous people seem to bounce from one high profile marriage to the next, but the same cannot be said for Dolly Parton.
Parton has been married since 1966, when she tied the knot with construction entrepreneur Carl Dean.
The two are still madly in love today, and the couple even renewed their vows in 2016. How sweet!
Dean is notoriously shy when it comes to the spotlight, but in a rare interview he said of his meeting Dolly for the first time: “My first thought was I’m gonna marry that girl.”
Dean’s second thought was less grand and romantic but still very sweet, as he said: “My second thought was Lord she’s good lookin’.”
11. She wasn’t allowed to write her own music at first – despite already being a hit songwriter for other artists
Dolly Parton is a certified triple threat as far as music-making goes. Not only can she sing, but she can also play multiple instruments and write her own hit songs.
In fact, Parton actually started her career by writing hits for other country musicians, beginning with her uncle Bill Owens.
During those early years, Parton wrote two top ten hits: Put It Off Until Tomorrow for Bill Phillips in 1966, and Fuel to the Flame by Skeeter Davis in 1967.
All of this makes it more surprising that when Parton started out as a singer in her own right, she wasn’t allowed to write her own songs.
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Parton’s first single was called Happy Happy Birthday Baby, and it was written by another lyricist and songwriter. Unfortunately, it didn’t even chart within the top 100.
Dolly’s only solo hit to be written by another artist was Dumb Blonde, which was written by Curly Putman.
10. She was estranged from Porter Waggoner for years
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The most famous musical duo to collaborate on a television show is probably Sonny and Cher, but right behind them are Dolly Parton and Porter Waggoner.
Waggoner invited Parton to be the resident singer on The Porter Waggoner Show, a position that Parton held for eight years.
Waggoner championed her early music career, but when Parton attempted to break away from the show and strike out on her own, Waggoner tried to sue her for breach of contract.
As a result of this, the two were estranged for many decades, and only picked up their friendship shortly before Waggoner’s death.
Parton was the last guest to visit Waggoner, and was present by his bedside the day before he died.
According to Parton, the two held hands and prayed together, but by that point Waggoner’s soul was “already with God”.
9. She has given away 120 million free books to children
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In 1995, Dolly Parton founded Imagination Library, a charity dedicated to providing kids with free books throughout their childhood.
The aim of Imagination Library is to encourage a love of reading in children, as well as to help increase literacy rates in lower-income areas of the United States.
Parton started the foundation in tribute to her father, who she has often called “the smartest man [she] ever met”.
Parton’s father did not have the ability to read, which was something that caused him a great deal of stress and shame throughout his life.
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Imagination Library has now been responsible for sending out more than 120 million free books to children, and has even expanded its mission to beyond just the US.
The project now sends out books to children who need them in Canada, the UK, Australia and the Republic of Ireland. It was the thing that Parton’s father was most proud of in his life.
8. She’s known best friend Judy Ogle since the third grade
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Most people have a childhood best friend, and sometimes that relationship sticks with people through their entire life.
With that said, it’s less common for people to remain best friends with their childhood bestie all the way through adulthood, and even into old age.
As unusual as it sounds, that’s exactly how the friendship between Dolly Parton and Judy Ogle has gone.
The two went to school together in the third grade, and they have been fast friends ever since.
In fact, the pair have been so inseparable and affectionate for so long that many journalists have speculated that the two are secretly dating.
Parton even had to release a statement to the contrary, in which she said: “I love her as much as I love anybody in the whole world, but we’re not romantically involved.”
7. She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
When it comes to career milestones for famous creative people, getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is pretty much the highest honour there is.
With that said, the only thing better than getting one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is getting two.
Dolly Parton got her first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1984, and her second in 2019.
She is the first woman this century to be honoured with two Hollywood stars, and the second woman overall, after Diana Ross. Talk about an exclusive club.
Even though it is less common these days for performers to receive multiple stars, last century it happened far more frequently.
Several classic actresses have two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, from Judy Garland and Doris Day to Bette Davis.
6. She holds two Guinness World Records
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There are several awards you would expect a popular musician to collect over the course of their lifetime, and then there are those that you wouldn’t expect at all.
For example, it makes total sense that Dolly Parton has over 30 awards to her name, most of which are Grammys and People’s Choice awards.
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What you might not know or expect is that Dolly Parton also holds two Guinness World Records.
Parton currently holds the world record for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart.
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Parton also holds the record for the Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist. Not bad.
As for the person with the most number one singles on the Country chart overall, that honour goes to George Strait.
5. Dolly the sheep was named after her
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Dolly Parton is pretty much universally beloved, with many fans idolising her for her sweet and funny nature, even if they are not country fans or part of her core demographic.
With that said, Parton’s music does have a wide appeal, with it even having popularity in sectors that you might not expect.
For example, the first-ever cloned mammal was a domestic sheep, who was successfully cloned in 1996.
The scientists involved with the project knew that the animal was a scientific breakthrough, and that it would become a famous part of science history. So what did they call the sheep? Dolly, after Dolly Parton.
Not only that, but Parton is one of a small number of artists whose work has been listened to outside Earth’s atmosphere.
Astronaut Charles Duke listened to a cassette tape of Dolly Parton songs while on his spaceflight to the moon, so clearly her music is appropriate for all sorts of situations.
4. She has an honorary doctorate
Parton set out to begin her career as a songwriter the second she graduated high school, so she never really pursued education beyond that point.
With that said, her philanthropic work and activism have both focused heavily on children’s access to education and betterment opportunities.
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This lifelong commitment to improving people’s access to educational attainment opportunities throughout her life was recently noticed by the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
The university decided that Parton was a prime candidate for an honorary doctorate, in honour of the value she had placed on education throughout her life.
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Celebrities being awarded honorary doctorates from universities in their home state or town is nothing new, but the fact that Parton was given a doctorate from the University of Tennessee is significant.
Parton’s diploma represents only the second honorary degree the University of Tennessee has ever given out, which surely means it is worth framing along with all of her platinum records.
3. She turned down the chance to work with Elvis
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When it comes to musical legends, Elvis is about as famous as they come. After all, you don’t get the nickname of The King by being a niche underground artist.
Given his fame and renown, it’s difficult to imagine anyone saying no to a collaboration with him, though that’s exactly what Dolly Parton did.
Elvis approached Parton as a fan, wishing to record and release a cover of her song I Will Always Love You.
Parton was flattered and thrilled, but soon realised that she had to say no, as Elvis’ cover would involve him taking half the publishing rights. Given that the song was already hugely successful, Parton had planned on leaving any publishing profits from the song to her family when she died.
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Turning down Elvis’ cover version meant that Parton retained the publishing rights to the song, even when other artists covered it.
This turned out to be the right decision, as when Whitney Houston’s cover of the song became a hit, Parton herself saw a significant portion of the profits.
2. She has been inducted into 15 different Halls of Fame
Getting inducted into the hall of fame connected to your genre of choice is an aspirational goal that many musicians have.
Most halls of fame only induct a select few artists every year, and only once they have proven themselves to be both pioneering and enduring.
Given that many artists work their whole lives to be considered for induction into just one hall of fame, Dolly Parton’s induction track record is just another thing that proves her success.
At last count, Dolly Parton had been inducted into 15 different halls of fame, for various areas and genres of music.
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The more obvious halls that Dolly Parton has been inducted into include the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Small Town of America Hall of Fame, the East Tennessee Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
However, Parton has also found herself inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Happiness Hall of Fame, and the Grammys Hall of Fame twice.
1. She’s got multiple secret tattoos
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Plenty of musicians are covered in tattoos, though they tend to be in genres that skew towards the heavier or rocky end of the musical spectrum.
Dolly Parton’s upbeat and bubbly personality, as well as her fun and fluffy country music, often leads people to assume that she has no tattoos.
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On the contrary, Parton has multiple tattoos on her arms, and even a small one on her sternum.
However, she keeps these tattoos hidden almost 100% of the time, and has said in interviews that they serve a very specific function.
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Most of Parton’s tattoos are to cover scars, since her pale skin means that her scars are often visible.
Parton has opted to cover them with pastel tattoos, usually of butterflies or hearts, that are sometimes dedicated to her husband.