‘I Never Think Of Myself As A Star’: Why We Love Dolly Parton

‘I Never Think Of Myself As A Star’: Why We Love Dolly Parton

With political differences increasing the polarization of the United States, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find any universally beloved celebrities in Hollywood. Dolly Parton is a glaring exception to this rule. Is there anyone who doesn’t adore the country music legend?

There are so many reasons for the endless praise from people of all ages and political persuasions for Dolly Parton. One of these is that Parton, 76, is so unapologetically herself; despite achieving fame and fortune beyond any country singer’s wildest dreams, she remains genuine. It also helps that the 11-time Grammy Award winner came from humble beginnings.

Dolly Rebecca Parton was born in 1946 as the fourth of 12 children. She was raised in a one room cabin on the banks of the Little Pigeon River in Pittman Center, Tennessee. Despite having no money, the singer described her childhood as happy and fulfilled.

Her father, Lee, apparently didn’t have the money to pay the doctor who delivered her, so he paid him with a bag of cornmeal.

Parton described her home life by saying, “We were also very close as a family, always had a great faith in God. That gave us strength. I still draw from that because I stayed close to my family and my home. I didn’t leave home to get away from them.”

One famous anecdote from Parton’s childhood involved the singer almost severing three toes after stepping on broken glass. Since they couldn’t afford to go to the hospital, Parton’s mother sewed them back on herself with her quilting needles.

“I was probably about six or seven. I had jumped across the fence onto a broken mason jar and cut three of my toes, just my little toes on my right foot, almost off and they were just kind of hanging there,” the country star told Dr. Oz during a 2017 show appearance, according to People.

“So they grabbed me up and all my dad and my brothers, they had to hold me down. Momma, she put cornmeal — now, you’re a doctor, you might know, I think the cornmeal was to absorb the blood,” she continued. “They put kerosene on it for antiseptic and momma took her sewing needles — she used to make our quilts and stuff, and she literally had to sew my toes back on. But they worked and they healed and I’m still walking on them.”

She recalls her upbringing fondly, despite a lack of resources.

“We always made jokes and said we didn’t even know we were poor til some smart aleck up and told us,” Parton said during a Today Show appearance. “We didn’t have any money, but we were rich in things that money don’t buy. You know, like love and kindness and understanding.”

One of the singer’s best known charities is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a literacy non-profit that gives free books to millions of children. She started this book gifting program in part because her own father was illiterate.

It wouldn’t have been too surprising if the “9 to 5” and “Jolene” composer ended up with a big head after spending so much time in the public spotlight. However, Parton has stayed true to her roots, which has helped her fans fall in love even more – and she’s funny, too.

“I never think of myself as a star because, as somebody once said, ‘A star is nothing but a big ball of gas’ – and I don’t want to be that,” she told Billboard in 2014.

The singer doesn’t sleep much – she once said she’s up by 3 a.m. each day — which could explain how she’s managed to have such a prolific career. Parton has composed more than 5,000 songs, received nearly 200 industry awards, and sold more than 100 million records worldwide over her decades-long career. Somehow, she’s still smiling and creating all these years later.

Parton’s genius is rooted in her self-deprecating humor and how she feels both knowable and unknowable to the public, similar to the famed British monarch Queen Elizabeth. Parton doesn’t comment on politics, and she makes jokes about absolutely everything, especially her over-the-top appearance and mannerisms. 

A BBC article described her as “a master of distraction.”

“She gives away very little,” her “9 to 5” co-star, Lily Tomlin, said of the star. “There’s a mystery about her.” 

Meanwhile, Parton said: “People feel like they know me.” The implication is that they don’t really, though.

Unlike some celebrities, it seems like the country star’s fame just keeps growing – to the point that Parton herself said in 2020, “I’m sick of Dolly, ain’t you?” It’s because she doesn’t seem to be chasing fame; fame seems to find her instead.

When it comes to politics, Parton keeps her voting record a closely guarded secret. She won’t discuss anything publicly that would alienate either fan base. 

“I’ve got as many Republican friends as I’ve got Democrat friends and I just don’t like voicing my opinion on things,” she told the Guardian in 2019. “I’ve seen things before, like the Dixie Chicks. You can ruin a career for speaking out.”

Parton has come out in favor of LGBT rights and even hosts a “Gay Day” at her famed Dollywood Theme Park in Tennessee. Beyond that, the actress and philanthropist keeps her private life quiet. Her husband, Carl Thomas Dean, whom Parton wed in 1966, is almost never seen in photos. In 2011, Parton said, “We’re really very proud of our marriage. It’s the first for both of us. And the last.”

When Parton’s “9 to 5” costars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin started bashing Donald Trump while the three were presenting at the 2017 Emmy Awards, the singer literally took a step back, smiled silently, and then made a boob joke.

“I just did not want everybody to think that whatever they think is what I think,” Parton later told The Guardian of the incident in 2019.

“I don’t really like getting up on TV and saying political things. I don’t even want to make a deal out of it, but I want people to know I’m my own individual self. Even though [Fonda, Tomlin, and I] may agree on a whole lot of things – and they may have more agreement [between] themselves because they’ve been together for longer – I still have my own thoughts and my own way of doing things. It’s not a matter of being disrespectful, it’s just, OK, that’s what they said, I’m not getting involved in it.”

It’s this type of attitude that allows Parton to remain a national treasure.