At 76, and in her seventh decade of recording, my cousin (and subject of my 1994 biography) Dolly Parton is country music’s greatest star. Hank Williams died too soon. Johnny Cash never had an amusement park. And Tammy Wynette couldn’t deliver the quips that Parton rolls out with ease: “I like to buy my clothes two sizes too small and then take them in a little.”
However, beneath the wigs and the wisecracks of this self-described “backwoods Barbie” beats the heart of a mountain savant. Back in the Tennessee Smokies, where she grew up, people saw something special in her early: an advanced sense of perception for a child, an inherent wisdom. She got her first guitar at 7 or 8, and though she’d been making up words and tunes since she was 5, “that’s when I started to write some serious songs … pretty deep songs for a kid. Don’t ever remember thinking like a child.”
Hear the inimitable Parton reflect on life in general (and her new novel) live, with her coauthor James Patterson, on Friday, March 25, as part of AARP’s three-day AARP Celebrates You! online festival. (Find out how to join the free event here.)
Meanwhile, enjoy these eight inspiring examples of how Dolly’s inner compass has guided her through a remarkable life (along with some fun Dolly Parton trivia).
“I’m never going to be a Meryl Streep. But then, she’ll never be a Dolly Parton, either.”
The backstory: Despite starring in a handful of motion pictures (9 to 5, Steel Magnolias), Dolly says she’s not that great an actress, and doesn’t even want to be. She knows her strengths, and besides, she’s a character all her own.
Fun fact: Dolly turned down Elvis Presley’s request to record one of her songs because it would have meant giving up half her publishing rights.