Dolly Parton is a national treasure. She is indubitably one of the all-time biggest stars of country music and one of the best-selling recording artists in history. But it isn't just country music fans that love Dolly. She is embraced by many for her down-home, sweet, and welcoming manner. As of this writing, Parton has sold more than 177 million records. Twenty-five of her songs and/or albums have been certified as Gold, Platinum, or Multi-Platinum. She's won eight Grammys and been nominated for two Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, and an Emmy. She's written and composed more than 3,000 songs and has had more than 110 chart singles. Some of the country legend's best known songs include "I Will Always Love You" (made famous by Whitney Houston), "9 to 5", "Jolene", "Coat of Many Colors", and "My Tennessee Mountain Home". She's also an actress who has starred in "9 to 5", "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas", "Steel Magnolias", "Gnomeo and Juliet", "Straight Talk", "Unlikely Angel", and "Joyful Noise". Oh, and she has her own theme park, Dollywood, that annually welcomes more than three million visitors.
Dolly Parton, she of the trashy clothes, stripper shoes, big hair, and even bigger chest, is an incredibly astute businesswoman. In addition to the theme park, she also owns a radio station, restaurants, as well as record and TV companies. Dolly started her own literacy program and distributes 2.5 million free books to children every year. But on the rare weekend when she isn't brokering a business deal, writing a chart topping song, singing in concert, or acting in a film, Dolly likes to head out on the road with her husband of 48 years in their R.V.
Oh, and Dolly Parton has a personal net worth of $500 million. Here's how she did it…
Dolly Rebecca Parton was born on January 19, 1946 in Locust Ridge, Tennessee. She was one of 12 children in a family so poor that Dolly's father paid the doctor who delivered her with a sack of oatmeal. The family, all 13 of them (one of her brothers died just five days after being born), lived in a single room cabin in the Appalachia region. Dolly sang about her family's poverty in her songs "Coat of Many Colors" and "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)." Music was an important part of Dolly's life from a young age. Her grandfather was a Pentecostal "Holy Roller" minister; so many of Dolly's early performances were in church alongside her very musical family. Her first dream was to appear on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
Parton's angelic voice and beauty got her noticed as a child and she began performing on local television and radio shows in Eastern Tennessee. She got her first guitar at the age of eight. When she was 10, she began appearing on "The Cas Walker Show" on WIVK Radio and WBIR TV in Knoxville, Tennessee. When Dolly was 14, she recorded the single "Puppy Love" on Goldband Records, a small Louisiana record label. That same year, Parton appeared at the Grand Ole Opry. She met Johnny Cash (for the first time) and he encouraged her to follow her instincts when it came to her career.
Dolly took him seriously and on the day after she graduated from high school in 1964, she packed her bags and moved to Nashville. On her first day in Nashville she met Carl Dean. Two years later they were married, they remain married to this day.
Parton quickly found success in Nashville, but not as a performer. She signed with Combine Publishing and, alongside her uncle Bill Owens, wrote a number of singles that hit the charts—including two top ten hits—Bill Phillips's 1966 song "Put it off Until Tomorrow" and Skeeter Davis's 1967 hit "Fuel to the Flame." Dolly's songs were recorded by a number of artists, including Hank Williams Jr. In late 1965, at just 19-years old, Parton signed with Monument Records. The label wanted her to be a bubblegum pop singer, despite her desire to record country songs. After "Put It Off Until Tomorrow" hit number six on the country music chart in 1966, the label relented. Her first country single, "Dumb Blonde" hit No. 24 on the country music chart in 1967, and her second, "Something Fishy" hit No. 17. Dolly was on her way. Dolly's first full studio album "Hello, I'm Dolly" was released in February 1967.
Of course Dolly is nearly as famous for her outsized curves as she is for her voice. You can imagine when she showed up in Nashville as a teenager with big dreams, a bigger voices, and even bigger…assets, how men perceived her. Fortunately Dolly, having grown up around lots of men with her father, brothers, and uncles—knew how to handle herself – and them. She was surely pursued around a desk or two in her day, but she knew how to diffuse a situation without hurting a man's pride. Dolly has always taken empowerment from feeling pretty and sexy and has used her looks and body to her advantage. She took control of the narrative about her famous curves, rather than letting the media control it for her.
In 1967, Parton's singing career started taking off, especially after she started appearing and performing on "The Porter Wagoner Show." The first time she went to Nashville's Studio A to record with Wagoner, Parton was driving her first brand new car. She didn't know how to drive and she drove right through the wall of the studio. Because she was running late, she left her car there, locked up, as if it were a normal parking place. When the recording session ended the car was discovered and Dolly had to admit she did it.
Parton and Wagoner recorded a number of country hits together, and Dolly's association with Wagoner helped her land a recording contract with RCA Records. Dolly had her first No. 1 country hit in 1971 with "Joshua." More hits would follow soon, including 1973's "Jolene" and 1974's "I Will Always Love You" – a song that became a signature for both Dolly and Whitney Houston. Dolly Parton won the Country Music Award for female vocalist in 1975 and 1976. Parton had her first cross-over hit with the song "Here You Come Again." The song reached the top of both the country and pop charts and she won her first Grammy Award for this tune.
The 1980s were very, very good to Dolly Parton. She starred in and contributed to the soundtrack for the hit film "9 to 5." The song was yet another number one hit and it also earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. In 1982, she starred in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and the movie featured her song "I Will Always Love You." In 1983, Parton had a huge hit with her duet with Kenny Rogers, "Islands in the Stream."
In 1986, Dolly launched her theme park Dollywood. It is located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and, with over 3 million guests per year; it is the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee. Dollywood features standard amusement park rides alongside traditional crafts and music of the Smoky Mountains region. The park has a number of concerts every year, including appearances by Parton. The complex has a waterpark, Dollywood's Splash Country as well as Dollywood's DreamMore Resort on its 290 acres.
The late 80s-mid 90s marked a return to Dolly's country roots. "Trio," released in 1987, featured Dolly alongside Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, and spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Country Albums chart, as well as producing Top 10 country hits including "To Know Him Is to Love Him," which hit No. 1.
Dolly Parton has been a prolific song writer over her career, but no song has done more for her (or made her more money) than "I Will Always Love You." It is her signature song. Before Whitney Houston introduced this song to a new generation, Elvis Presley was planning to record it. In fact, he had his composition of the song all worked up and Dolly told everybody he was going to record it. She spent time in the studio with Elvis and the night before the Elvis version of "I Will Always Love You" was to be recorded, Elvis's manger, Colonel Tom Parker called Parton and told her that Elvis didn't do anything that he didn't own the publishing rights to. Well, Dolly couldn't part with those rights, as it was (and arguably still IS) her most important song. In the end, Elvis didn't do the song, and as Dolly revealed in an interview for the Foo Fighter's HBO series "Sonic Highways," Elvis not recording "I Will Always Love You" broke her heart. However it also led Parton to realize how serious she was about her songwriting career. She stood her ground and it worked out well in the end. In 1992, Dolly would have the last laugh. Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" from the film "The Bodyguard" became one of the biggest hits of ALL TIME. Dolly has made tens of millions off Houston's version of Dolly's signature song alone.
In 1995, Dolly would again revisit "I Will Always Love You." She recorded it as a duet with Vince Gill and the song one the Country Music Association's Vocal Event of the Year Award.
Parton has set herself aside from her country music peers with her progressive views on gay rights and gender equality. She earned a second Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for "Travelin' Thru," a song she wrote for the 2005 film "Transamerica. The song's uncritical acceptance of a transgender woman garnered Parton death threats. Parton has remained a strong supporter of the LGBQT community through the years.
The 68-year old singer and actress is celebrating 50 years since she first came to Nashville this year and she has things to say to her Christian fans. Specifically, the icon for the gay community, is calling out those who are intolerant of the LGBT community.
"They know that I completely love and accept them, as I do all people. I've struggled enough in my life to be appreciated and understood. I've had to go against all kinds of people through the years just to be myself", Parton told Billboard magazine.
"I think everybody should be allowed to be who they are, and to love who they love. I don't think we should be judgmental. Lord, I've got enough problems of my own to pass judgment on somebody else", she said.
Earlier this year, Parton was vocal about her support of gay marriage, joking that "they should suffer just like us heterosexuals."
"I didn't know any gay people in my childhood. I do have a lot of gays in my family now, but some will never come out", the singer said in an April interview.
In 2006, Parton was one of five artists celebrated at the annual Kennedy Center Honors.
2014 is the year she got to live out one of her dreams. She headlined the main stage at the Glastonbury Festival in England. She headlined the Sunday night stage and drew a bigger crowd than Friday and Saturday's headliners Arcade Fire and Metallica. She was joined onstage by Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora. Many in the audience of 170,000 were dressed in Dolly wigs with fake balloon bosoms. Dolly Parton, country legend, was nervous that the crowd wouldn't know her, that the crowd was a little too rock n' roll for her. She told Billboard magazine:
"Oh, I hope they like me. I hope that everybody's right that this is a good thing to do. And then I heard them say my name, "Dolly! Dolly! Dolly!" and I thought, "I guess they do know who I am."
Dolly Parton has proven herself to be a force to be reckoned with. Long before women had found their voice and their power in the music industry, she was determinedly forging her own way and her own style. Of her ultra-feminine, fairly trashy style, Dolly famously remarked:
"It takes a lot of money to look this cheap."
When it comes down to it, the woman famous for her wigs and her chest and her voice is just a normal woman who loves to read, cook, and ride around in her RV with her husband of 48 years. She just happens to have own an massive business empire and is worth $500 million. Despite all the talk about her famously augmented chest (she calls them her show dogs), Parton has made her fortune and become beloved by her fans with the two biggest assets she has – her brains and her voice.