Dolly Rebecca Parton (born January 19, 1946) is an American country music singer, songwriter and actress.
Born in Sevierville, Tennessee, the fourth of 12 children, she started her entertainment career singing on local radio and television in eastern Tennessee. She moved to Nashville in 1964, and in 1967 was invited to join the weekly syndicated country music television program hosted by Porter Wagoner, with whom she became half of a highly successful duet team. She took to the Nashville Sound many traditional, folkloric elements from East Tennessee and popular music. Despite originally being typecast in many circles as a "Country and Western" singer, Parton later had even greater commercial success as a pop singer and actress. Her work of the late 1990s and beyond has moved towards bluegrass and more traditional folk styles.
In 1980 Parton was sitting next to actress Jane Fonda on a plane. Fonda was looking for a brassy Southern woman for a supporting role in her new film, 9 to 5. She felt Parton was perfect for the role. Parton agreed to be in the film, and went on to steal the notices and score a major hit with the title song. Parton was very selective about her future film material, but did have successes in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and in a supporting role in Steel Magnolias. Her last starring role was in 1992's Straight Talk, with James Woods.
Parton is also a shrewd businesswoman. She invested much of her earnings into business ventures in her native East Tennessee, notably Pigeon Forge which includes a theme park named Dollywood, resulting in a thriving tourism industry drawing visitors from large parts of the southeastern and midwestern US, notably, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. This region of the U.S., like most areas of Appalachia, traditionally has been characterized by economic poverty. Parton thus put something back into the community where she was born and raised.
Parton is a hugely successful songwriter, having begun by writing country songs with strong elements of folk music in them based upon her upbringing in humble mountain surroundings. Her Coat of Many Colors has become a classic in the field, as have a number of others. In 1974, her version of "I Will Always Love You" was released going up to #1 on the C&W charts, though it never charted anywhere else. Around the same time, Elvis Presley wanted to cover the song. Dolly was interested until Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told her she would have to sign over some of the profits if Elvis recorded the song. Parton refused and that decision is credited with helping make her many millions of dollars in royalties over the years. In 1982, Parton recorded a second version of that song for the film The Best Little Whorehouse of Texas; the second version proved to be another #1 C&W hit and also managed to reach the pop charts going to US #53. In 1992, "I Will Always Love You" was performed by Whitney Houston on The Bodyguard soundtrack. Houston's version became the best-selling hit written and performed by a female vocalist, with worldwide sales of 12 million. As Parton owned the song, she raked in huge profits from Houston's cover. In 1981, Parton also earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for the title track to the film Nine to Five.
After being dropped by country radio stations' playlists in the mid-1990s she re-discovered her roots by recording a series of critically acclaimed bluegrass albums including Grammy Award-winning Little Sparrow (2001) which was the theme tune of the very popular movie of the same name.
Standing at 5' 0"(152 cm), Parton's physical trademark is her large bust. She often mocked this reputation with quips such as "I would have burned my bra in the 60s but it would have taken the fire department three days to put it out" or "the reason I have a small waist and small feet is that nothing grows well in the shade". She reportedly turned down several offers to pose for Playboy magazine and similar publications. Although she has admitted to having some amount of cosmetic surgery (notably a breast lift), rumors that she has also had some breast augmentation surgery remain unsubstantiated.
Parton is unique among country music stars in that she is admired and acclaimed by fans from all walks of life, and has strong ties to the gay community. Parton has said that as a little girl she always idolized the outcasts in her town (such as prostitutes, whose long fingernails and big blonde wigs inspired Parton) and that has continued in her adult years. She has recorded several times with Melissa Etheridge.
On April 14, 2004, she was awarded the Living Legend medal by U.S. Library of Congress for her contributions to the cultural heritage of the United States.