21 Nov 2020

Dolly Parton: 'I’m proud to be an example for a strong woman'

From Saturday Morning, 3:03 pm on 21 November 2020

At the age of 75, legendary singer, songwriter, actor, author, and humanitarian Dolly Parton is happy to be seen as a feminist icon - and says she's also considering posing for Playboy magazine.

The famous American country singer's image might be bottle blonde with fake boobs, but underneath she says she's utterly authentic.

"It's like a country girl's idea of glamour.  I was not a natural beauty, so I just have to make it up as I go.

"I just get dressed to suit myself and if I suit me, I seem to suit a lot of other people - and what more could you ask?"

Currently staying in Nashville, at one of several homes she owns, Dolly says it's "funny" that she's been adopted by the feminist movement as an icon.

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Photo: supplied

"Does being feminine make you a feminist?

"I'm very proud of who I am. I'm very proud of all the women out there who are doing what they want to do… we've come a long way.

"I don't have to carry signs, I just live it and I write it in my songs."

Dolly had breast enlargement surgery and dismisses the 'less is more' motto as balderdash.

She's pleased if she has helped forge a path for women to honour their own hearts and minds.

"I just do what makes me feel good. I say what makes me feel good. I live what makes me feel good.

"If women relate to that, it's what they're trying to be right - themselves. To be appreciated and respected, I've been able to do that just by being who I am.

"I'm proud to be an example for a strong woman in show business - or in business, period."

Dolly is making something of a late comeback - she's the subject of a Netflix series Dolly Parton's Heartstrings, a documentary Dolly Parton: Here I Am, Sarah Smarsch's book She Come By It Natural, and a podcast, Dolly Parton's America. The hit 1980 film she starred in, 9 to 5, is also being turned into a stage show.

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Photo: 2019 Getty Images/ AFP

Her own book - Songteller - has just been published and offers new insights into the stories behind her lyrics.

"I've got enough songs for everybody for all time.

"I've written at least 3000 songs, but three good ones," she laughs.

These she lists as 'Jolene', '9 to 5', and 'I will Always Love You' - a song she wrote when she left Porter Wagoner's television show in 1974 to pursue an independent career.

But all her songs are her babies.

"They're all hits with me. They're like my children… and I expect them to support me when I'm old - and they are and I'm old and the royalties are coming in pretty good."

Over the years, 26 of her songs have reached number one on country music charts, a record for a female artist, and in 1999 she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  

Dolly has also starred in films including The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), and Steel Magnolias (1989).

These days, she's considering doing a second photo shoot with Playboy magazine.

"I might… just to have a good picture, just to show I still got it even if I'm 75.

"I won't be doing any spreads, if you will pardon my expression."

Unlike many stars, she has managed to dodge the jaws of addiction and to stay married to one man - for 54 years.

Her husband, Carl Dean, ran an asphalt paving business, before investing in property and retiring to look after their farms.

"He's just a real country boy," she says.

Dolly Parton on the set of her first film 9 to 5 in 1980

Parton starred in the film, 9 to 5, in 1980. Photo: 20th Century Fox

She married Dean secretly the weekend after her record label boss warned her not to marry, because it might dull her chances of success. The quiet marriage didn't dim her rising star.

"That just goes to show love is the best thing ever," she laughs.

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Dolly Parton at the launch of the Heartstrings series last year. Photo: 2019 Getty Images/ AFP

After Porter Wagoner sued her in 1979 for breaching her contract, she suffered from depression and struggled with weight gain.

"I got through that like I get through everything - by having faith and I believe that through God, all things are possible.

"I've been blessed with good friends and good family too."

While Dolly only attends church occasionally, she has chapels at each of her homes, so she can pray in her own style.

She recently donated $1 million to help develop Moderna's vaccine for Covid-19 and has been involved in several other charities.

Her father's inability to read and write spurred her to start the Imagination Library in 1995, an organisation that has donated 130 million free books to children around the world.

She also helped raise $13m for families affected by the 2016 wildfires in Tennessee.

But she says she can't take all the credit for such good works, because teams of people help her shine.

Dolly is also reluctant to see her bust replace statues of Tennessee confederate generals.

"They had a sign saying 'Dolly for president' and I said 'no thank you'. We've had enough boobs in the White House.

"I don't want any statues taken down and putting me there.

"If I get a statue, I want it to be self-standing, for its own reason."

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton Photo: supplied / Stacie Huckeba