We all know and love Dolly Parton as the bubbly blonde Appalachian singer whose songs embody the spirit of country music. We may even know her for her acting chops or entrepreneurial skills, too. But there are still some details about the country goddess’ epic 50-year-long career that even her most avid fans may not know. Take a look these fascinating photos and facts – many of which prove that underneath the rhinestone jumpsuits, she truly has a heart of gold.
20. Parton and her husband kept a big secret
Parton met her husband Carl in the early stages of her career, but she was advised to hold on to her single girl image for as long as possible. The loved-up couple didn’t want to wait, however, and so they opted for clandestine nuptials on May 30, 1966, in Ringgold, Georgia. And, incredibly, they managed to keep their marriage hidden for a full 12 months.
19. Before she even arrived in Nashville, she had already made family history
Parton was the very first member of her family to graduate high school – in 1964, at the age of 18. But those smarts didn’t lead her on to further study right away. Instead, she left her hometown of Sevierville the very next day to kick-start her career in the music industry.
18. Her first professional gig was an unusual one
Parton’s uncle Billy nurtured his niece’s musical talent from an early age, and it was that support that led her to a career break at a very young age. Specifically, he introduced her to a local businessman who owned a string of grocery stores and promoted his businesses on a Tennessee radio show. And thanks to this canny bit of networking, said promotional radio show would host Dolly’s first performance in front of a live audience – while she was just ten years old.
17. “I Will Always Love You” is an ode to another country star
“I Will Always Love You” remains one of Parton’s most successful songs, not least through Whitney Houston’s chart-topping cover of the track. What many fans probably don’t know, however, is that the lyrics were actually written for Porter Wagoner after he and Dolly ended their long-time musical partnership.
16. Parton’s locks were in high demand during the ’90s
During the ’90s Revlon met popular demand by producing a range of wigs modeled on the locks of the famous country singer. And to this day Dolly Parton wigs are still sold online, with the most popular style being a hairpiece of blonde beehive curls.
15. She has a very special connection to the Girl Scouts
Girl Scouts can earn a patch called “Coat of Many Colors” by thinking about those who are less fortunate and organizing ways to help the poor. It was created by the Girl Scouts of Tanasi Council, in collaboration with Parton herself, and is named after the country star’s 1971 single of the same name.
14. She’s an honorary degree holder
In 2009 Parton was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Texas in Knoxville for her services to charity and entertainment. And in doing so, she became only the second person ever to be given the accolade from the institution.
13. Her iconic look began with some strange experimentation
As she grew up poor in Tennessee, a young Parton couldn’t afford to buy branded make-up. Still, that didn’t stop her from trying to look her best. And that urge led to some creative improvisation, as she would make lip stain out of red berries, create a smokey eyeliner look with charred matches and even scent herself with honeysuckle instead of perfume.
12. Two of her biggest songs took no time to write
It took Parton just one night in 1973 to pen songs “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You.” And that feat is all the more incredible given that “Jolene” remains one of the most successful and beloved hits for Parton as a solo artist. “I Will Always Love You,” meanwhile, is arguably even more iconic, thanks to Whitney Houston’s 1992 cover version.
11. There’s one part of being a beauty icon that Parton simply won’t tolerate
Parton has been very open about her relationship with dieting: basically, after years of doing them all, she’s not a fan. “I tried every diet in the book,” she told Vogue in 2017. “I tried eating the book, it tasted better than most of the diets.” Perhaps that’s because food is – alongside men – her biggest weakness.
10. She was named Tennessean of the Year in 2006 – but not for her music
Parton’s child literacy charity, Dolly’s Imagination Library, deservedly earned her the accolade of “Tennessean of the Year” back in 2006. Parton launched the charity in 1995 to raise literacy rates among preschoolers in her home county in East Tennessee.
9. Even scientists have honored her
The world’s first cloned mammal was a sheep named Dolly, after Parton herself. And that tribute was a bit of a cheeky one from the scientists involved in the animal’s creation. How? Well, the sheep was cloned from a mammary gland cell – and it didn’t escape them that Parton herself has rather large, well, assets…
8. She has a surprising link to Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Parton is definitely a woman of many talents, but her time in TV is perhaps the most surprising achievement of them all. Indeed, through her production partnership with Sandollar Entertainment, the country icon was involved in the making of the hit horror TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Although she remained uncredited throughout the show’s run, Dolly is technically one of its executive producers.
7. Her charity work extends far beyond her literacy program
In December 2016 Parton created the “My People Fund” for residents of the Great Smokey Mountain area. The community had been devastated by wildfires that had forced 2,000 people to flee their homes. And that act of kindheartedness came on the back of yet another one: in November 2016 she awarded a $30,000 college scholarship to a two-year-old who had recently signed up for her literacy program.
6. An unusual toy inspired her very first song
Parton was so young when she first started writing lyrics that she had to have her mom write down the words for her. And, charmingly, the first ever tune she composed was about her doll, which was created from a corn cob.
5. She purchased her old family home and made some surprising changes
After achieving some success, Parton had enough money to purchase her childhood home. And not only that, but she spent millions of dollars making it look exactly the way it had looked when she was young – outdoor toilet included.
4. Childhood bullying led to a life-long phobia
As a child, Parton was locked in a school cupboard by children who envied her for her appearance on local TV. As a result, she has always been scared of the dark and still goes to bed with a night light on. Aww.
3. She is the biggest employer in her hometown
Parton has been determined to help people living in the community she grew up in ever since she moved away at 18. And so through her theme park, Dollywood, she employs more people in Sevier County than any other business.
2. She’s been targeted by extremists
In the mid ’00s, several theme parks participated in “Gay Days,” in which the LGBT community and their families were given a safe space to enjoy all the fun the attractions offered. Dollywood was one of those parks involved, although not everyone approved. In particular, Parton got threats to her person from the Ku Klux Klan for her gesture. Naturally, though, she didn’t let them deter her.
1. Her husband allowed the cameras into their lives – on one condition…
Parton and her husband celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2016 and marked the occasion with a private ceremony to renew their vows in Nashville, Tennessee. And while that’s heartwarming enough by itself, the couple upped the ante even further by selling the photographs of the event at a special charity auction. The money raised went to Dolly’s Imagination Library.