Dolly Parton's Big Life
Still, this little girl had big dreams—and a big voice. By age 10, Dolly was a star on local television and radio. The day after this self-proclaimed "Backwoods Barbie" graduated high school, she moved to Nashville to pursue her dreams of performing.
See Dolly's life in photos.
In 1967, Dolly got her big break when she joined the popular The Porter Wagoner Show. From there, Dolly became a one-woman empire. She's written more than 3,000 songs, sold more than 100 million albums and topped the charts with 25 number one singles. She's also conquered television, movies and Broadway, and her Dollywood theme park has been thrilling fans for 25 years.
Dolly reveals her biggest beauty secrets.
"The only way I'd be caught without makeup is if my radio fell in the bathtub while I was taking a bath and electrocuted me and I was in between makeup at home," she says. "I hope my husband would slap a little lipstick on me before he took me to the morgue."
It's been rumored that Dolly and Carl have an open marriage, but Dolly says statements she's made in the past have been taken out of context. "That just means we let each other be who we are and how we are. But I'd kill him if I knew he was with somebody," she jokes. "We love people. He knows I'm a flirt and a tease, but it's harmless. I've never met the man that would take his place."
Dolly says respect for her husband's character is the reason Carl lives his life out of the spotlight. "Early on in my career, I'd won [Song of the Year] in 1966, and I asked him to go with me. ... He was so uncomfortable," she says. "He said: 'Now I want you to do everything you want to do. I want you to enjoy every minute of your life. But don't you ever ask me to go to another one of these things. Because I am not going.'"
Dolly says she never asked him to make another public appearance. "He's proud of me. He's just basically shy about things like that. He doesn't like crowds," she says. "And I respect his privacy. I respect the fact that he loves to be out of the limelight. That's one of the reasons I think we've lasted so long."
Dolly says her spirituality also keeps her grounded. "My grandpa was a preacher. My grandmother was very religious, and she believed through God all things are possible," she says. "Every day I pray about all I do."
Dolly even has a special place to pray on her tour bus. "It keeps me strong," she says. "It's best to get outside yourself and it helps to keep some of the pressure off to give it back and ask for help, and I'm not ashamed or afraid to do that."
Standing just over 5 feet without heels, Dolly says she was the smallest contestant there. "Here all these big drag queens are at least 6 feet tall with their high heels," she says. "I was kind of lost in the shuffle. They didn't take me serious at all."
Dolly ended up coming in second place. "I did it just for fun," she says. "It was just fun to tell the story."
Dollywood has also allowed Dolly to give back to causes she's passionate about. Proceeds from the park benefit the Dollywood Foundation, which in turn funds Dolly's Imagination Library. "It's a literacy program I started in my hometown many years ago," she says. "We started giving books to children from the time they're born, once a month, till they go to kindergarten. And then it started all over Tennessee. The government got involved, and now it's all over the United States."
Decades ago, Dolly says she learned Elvis wanted to record a version of "I Will Always Love You," which had already been a hit for Dolly. "I was so excited. I told everybody Elvis is singing 'I Will Always Love You'," she says. "So the day of the session they'd invited me down, [Elvis' manager] Colonel Tom calls me and says, 'You know we don't record any songs that we don't get half the publishing of.'"
Dolly's heart sank. "I thought, 'Oh, no, that's already been a hit and that's what I'm leaving for my family.' It had nothing to do with Elvis, because hopefully he was disappointed too," she says. "But I just wouldn't let him have the publishing."
Watch Dolly dedicate "I Will Always Love You" to Oprah.
In 1992, Whitney Houston's label agreed to her terms, and a new version of "I Will Always Love You" skyrocketed to the top of the charts. "I thought, 'Well, good, I'm glad I kept it,'" she says. "But I would have still loved to have heard Elvis sing it. Can you imagine?"
Look back at Dolly's life in photos
Go inside Dolly's tour bus