Dolly Parton
Country Song
January 1998
Dreams Do Come True
By Nancy Brooks


      People have told me that when Dolly Parton walks into a room, the whole room lights up.  I have found this to be an accurate statement.  It's media day at Dollywood (a theme park in Tennessee), and several TV crews are set up in the new DJ Platter's restaurant in the park to get a few minutes with this superstar.
      She walks in and the laughs begin.  With each interview she does, she jokes and the laughter and smiles trail.  She gives one-liners as if she was schooled in the art of great comebacks.  The usually calm and unaffected media acts a bit starstruck posing for pictures with Parton and some are even getting autographs for friends and family.
      The only entertainer to boast her very own theme park is proud of the park.  "We actually do more business than Opryland" (a Nashville theme park that is part of the Grand Ole Opry).  Parton says "We're outdrawing them in attendance, but we're not enemies, and we use a lot of the same people."
      Actually, Dollywood is now the most visited theme park in Parton's home state of Tennessee outdrawing not only Opryland, but Elvis Presley's Graceland as well.
      Maybe the reason lies in Parton's being a big part of her park and getting involved with her people.  Possibly a little too involved.  Dollywood has teamed up with the kids network Nickelodeon this year and features a new show much like the "U Pick Nick" show on TV where kids get the honor of being slimed, which entails getting a green gel-like substance poured over your head.
      While filming some commercials for the park recently, Parton got the honor a little unexpectedly.  "They were showing me what Nickelodeon was about, and they were showing me this and that," Parton laughs.  "I was watching this on the air, this kid getting slimed.  I was watching the monitor, and they poured a bucket of slime on me."  She continues:  "It's such a mess.  I thought, no, I'm a little too old for that, so I'm not gonna get slimed, but I think I might slime somebody."  The wig that she was wearing, she says, will be preserved and will later be displayed at the park.
      In 1978, a Dolly Parton penned song includes the lyrics "I knew that someday, in my own special way, I'd repay all those Nickels And Dimes."
      Parton is one entertainer who has come home to help her people.  The same weekend the park opened, Parton learned that a local hospital was raising money to build a birthing unit, an addition to the hospital.
      Employees had raised $80,000 of their own money.  Parton quickly added $100,000 to their cause, and the birthing unit was named in her honor.
      Her Dollywood foundation has raised over two million dollars to help schools and kids in her home county through concerts Parton has put on with celebrity guests like Reba McEntire, Burt Reynolds, and Billy Ray Cyrus just to name a few.  In June, Parton took a day out of her busy schedule to read to a group of day care kids, as part of a reading program from Dollywood's Imagination Library that provides every pre-school child in her native Sevier County with a book every month from the time the child is born until the child reach kindergarten.
      Then, Parton visited her park and spent time with her employees to show them her appreciation for their hard work.  Every shop, ride and attraction at Dollywood displays a picture of the employees that work that certain attraction in a group posing with Parton.  She does spend time with her people.
      When asked about repaying those Nickels And Dimes, Parton speaks with humility:  "I don't think you ever can pay back completely or know really what you owe.  It's just that if you're in a position to help, that you should, and I think that I've been very blessed and I'm very grateful.  I've so fortunate in the business, and this is a wonderful area."  She continues "I'm very proud of my home; I'm very proud of my people.  So, I will always be doing it and [she ponders], I am paying back those Nickels And Dimes."
      Her words and music have inspired many.  Dolly says that her favorite song is Coat Of Many Colors, but also close to her heart is what she calls "The song that bought me a lot of wigs", I Will Always Love You.  You would have to live in a cave not to know about this song that Parton took to the top of the country charts twice and won a CMA award for.  Whitney Houston, of course, took it to the top of the pop charts and garnered a Grammy.  And let's not forget that Elvis wanted to record it in the mid-seventies.
      The song was written when Parton broke off her business relation ship with Porter Wagoner in the early seventies.  Those lyrics that touch so many and are so well known are actually her true life story.  "People are always saying they read my life story.  I said no, you didn't, you read my book of my life and other unfinished business, and you read a lot of my life," Parton says, "but my true life story is in all the songs that I've written through the years, every song I've ever written has some truth to something very near and dear to me."
      Dolly's music has taken a bit of a change lately though.  In March, Parton filmed a video for a dance mix of her version of Cat Stevens' Peace Train that is featured on a new dance album.  "People love to dance to it, and I guess they're gonna show that video on VH1 or some of those stations [Dolly chuckles], but it's a little odd for me.  You know, it's like, they took all the music away."  Says Parton, "it was the actual song that I did on the Treasures album, the last album I did."  The video has another famous twist; it was directed by Madonna's brother Christopher Ciccone.
      Whether it's dance, pop or country, Dolly Parton has made more than an impact on music and on many artists of today.  Country's reigning queen Reba McEntire sang Parton's Jolene in her show for years and sights her as a big influence.  Shania Twain told me once about an encounter with her musical hero in an airplane where Twain just couldn't muster up the guts to say something to Dolly.  Holly Dunn told me about appearing at a Grand Ole Opry birthday celebration, having been placed next to Parton and being nervous just to be near her.  And Patty Loveless tells author Lawrence Leamer in his new book that when she first came to Nashville, Porter Wagoner introduced her to Parton who took Loveless under her wing and taught her how to apply make-up and what to watch out for in the sometimes dangerous music business.
      Loveless said that Dolly, to her, was the model of what a country star should be.  When told that many artists today sight her as their musical inspiration, Parton lights up, then says almost in disbelief, "Really?!"
      Then in true Parton style she jokes:  "I have to say it makes you want to feel quite old, [laughing] but it's nice and a wonderful compliment when I see articles and things where other artist's have said that they've been inspired by my music and the fact that I've gone outside the music and done other things.  A lot of them kinda ask my advice and my opinion, and I try to give them the best advice I can when asked for it."  She continues, "I just think that it's a nice compliment.  It makes me feel good to know that my music has meant something to people and has stood on its own through the years."
      Whether it's Dolly Parton, the theme park namesake, the songwriter, the author, the movie star, the performer, the comedian, the humanitarian, or the business woman, still she dreams.  "I wake up with a new dream every day.  I have the desire to make Dollywood even bigger and better.  I have the hope of writing better songs and having some more hit records.  I'm working on some television shows now.
      "I want to do a children's album and some children's show on TV."  Says Parton matter of factly "Tomorrow I'll have new ones.  I enjoy seeing my dreams come true.  I have a lot of wonderful people helping me out, so I can't take credit for all these dreams, 'cause they've really made it a dream."  Well said for a dreamer who has made her dreams a reality and never misses an opportunity to tell others that they can too.