Dolly Parton
Irish Independent
October 13, 2002
When Dolly met Barry

. . . sparks flew.  Both of them flirted outrageously but behind the chemistry was great sadness as the pneumatic Ms Parton told Mr Egan the truth about her 'open' marriage and why the Queen of Country can't ever have any children.

FEELING like Charlie McCreevey on LSD, I do a quick run through on budgets with Dolly Parton.  The dress Dolly is wearing "probably cost me $38,000.  It cost a fortune and it looks so cheap, don't it?"  Her breasts ("jacked up and pulled up, but I always had big boobs) have been enhanced a long time ago at a cost of $3,000.

"It ain't cheap!  That was along time ago."

Why not just get a good wonder bra?

"Why don't you start asking me something else," she snaps.

She's also had botox and collagen.  "I will never graduate from collagen," she says.

Are you not worried about ending up like the Bride of Wildenstein in New York?

"I don't do freakies," she says, "I have good skin and I am very careful about what I do.  I just do nips and tucks, especially where my face is concerned."

Dolly's desire for cartoon physical perfection bigger, bolder, brassier will never be done justice by even her gargantuan appetite for plastic surgery.  "Plastic surgeons make mountains out of molehills," she says, a la Mae West.  "I never know what is going to come out of my mouth.  Sometimes it scares me."

I won't quote you on that (I don't believe I actually wink at her).  "Or what goes into it!" she howls.  "No, I never know what I am going to say.  I just say what comes to my mind.  I feel safe in doing it.  A lot of it is to entertain myself.  It is important to me that I enjoy my life so I entertain myself as much as I entertain you."  She says had she been born a man she would have been a drag queen.  No need.  Dolly was RuPaul (the world's answer to Mr Pussy) before RuPaul was even born.

She looks like a very expensively assembled porno cartoon come to life in the third floor suite of the Shelbourne Hotel.  Embracing Parton as we were introduced, I deliberately held her tighter and for longer than was normal; I wanted to know what it was like.

Dame Dolly beckons me to the sofa where I remain for the next hour.  She flirts like a sailor on ship leave.  Her permanent eye contact and casual touches of my knee do much to establish Parton's charm.  It is one of the campest and happiest hours of my life.  Well, she laughs at everything I say.  And when Dolly Parton laughs her breasts jump up and down like nobody's business, least of all mine in the normal run of things.  But for the moment, she plays Barbara Winsdor to my Sid James.  It is Carry On Up The Shelbourne.  Dolly Does D2.

As a boy, I tell her, whenever somebody said something especially obvious at school, we would rebuke the person with two rhetorical but timeless questions.  Is the Pope Catholic?  Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?  She finds the notion that school kids on the other side of the Atlantic would be using her name in this manner utterly hilarious.

"I do sleep on my back sometimes," she laughs.  "I don't have to.  I am used to them."  When I and my friends had reached the rebellious hormone stage, Rebecca Parton had left the two-room farm in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, near the Smoky Mountains National Forest.  She was the fourth of 12 children; her mother, Avie Lee Parton, was married at 15 and Dolly says she was always having one on her and one in her.  She can remember being little and not feeling pretty as a young girl.  She thought she was unattractive as a teenager.  She says it was from that unhappy place that the Dolly Parton look sprang from.  Her hair would never do anything she wanted it to do so she exaggerated it.  Her hands were short so her wore nails as long as her fingers.  She was short so she wore shoes with five inch heels.

Parton dresses awfully; not for nothing has she described her look as equal parts the Mother Goose and Cinderella and the local hooker.  She is the patron saint for working-class women of a certain age who dress as boldly as possible to assert themselves in a man's world.

She grew up in an extremely religious family her mother's beliefs were the Pentecostal Church of God, talking in tongues and laying on of hands variety; while her father leaned towards the more strict Baptists.  And there was young Dolly Rebecca Parton, short of leg and long of nerve, walking around lil' ol Locust Ridge dressed like the town whore.  "My grandfather thought I was going straight to hell from the time I was 15 years old.  I was a Jezebel going straight to hell!"

So when they told you that you couldn't dress like that, you would make your skirts that little bit shorter?

"You're damn right."

Religion is based on fear of women.

"Fear of everything," Dolly says.  "They try to scare people and scary religion is no religion."

So was Dolly's exaggerated, sexualized look was a giant two fingers to religious misogyny?  When church told Dolly about the evil temptation of the flesh and the wicked power women have over men, did she just push her décolletage out even further?

Dolly replies to my religious waffling with the most outrageous flirting.  "You are a fascinating person," she winks.  "You are somebody I would love to talk to later but not on a tape recorder."  I wimp out by suggesting I bring my wife along as well.  Not only is that is the last I hear of it, but now to all my teenage testosterone comrades, I say sorry.

There were other reasons why they felt young Dolly Parton was going to burn in the fires of hell.  The woman she was most impressed with wasn't the Virgin Mary, it was the non-virgin local hooker.  "She wore real tight clothes and short skirts," she beams.  Parton is now happily babbling away about her beloved town prostitute.  "She wore red nail polish, blonde bleached hair, red lipstick and I thought she was the prettiest thing I had ever seen in my life when I was a child.  She was real beautiful.  Maybe her family didn't know that she was called the town tramp.  She was trash and I thought that is what I want to be when I grow up.  Trash."

Some on the right of middle America would say she succeeded.  Parton's inspiration from the local hooker was taken to an expected level when, so the tabloid scandal not so long ago alleged, the queen of country music started to carry on like the local hussie and had an affair with a 15-year-old boy when she was 25 and married.  To Dolly's detractors it was a coup de grace for her 'open' marriage to her husband of 34 years, Carl Dean.

"I never deny nor admit everything, but the way that they write that stuff," she giggles.  "It is true that I know the people but it is bullshit that I had an affair with a 12-year-old, 10-year-old or 15.  It sounds good.  I would like to do it now at my age; I could get away with it.

I READ Parton aloud what her biographer, Alanna Nash, wrote about her:  "Dolly certainly acts and talks at times as though her marriage is an open one.  She is a love junkie and needs constant comforting and approval."

"A crock of shit," she giggles.  There is no bitterness in Dolly, it seems, no malice.  "That is just another person's opinion of me.  I love my husband; there is not a man that has been born that could take me away from my husband.  I always say yes, I am married but I am not dead and I am not blind.  It's not true that me and my husband sleep with other people anytime we want to."  She looks at me with those overpainted eyes.  "You certainly ask mighty personal questions.  You're not going to embarrass me, are you?"  Dolly belly-laughs for the millionth time.  "Oh you are.  I am gonna kill you!"

As it happens I have just one more personal question.  I read her another quote and watch her giggle as I do so.  "My husband doesn't let me date anymore since the story that I dated a 15-year-old boy," she said a few years ago.  "The good thing about age is you do forget about those things.  So that if it ever happened I have no memory of it."  Just as I reach the end of the sentence, Parton, all five foot nothing of her, is practically leaping out of the chair with laughter.  I feel like I am at a Fifties slumber party, just Dolly and me.  "That was a joke!  When I say that I was assuming that people just know that was a crock of shit.  When I had an affair with a 15-year-old boy they didn't say it that I was also 15 at the time," she says.  Yes, I played that tape several times and I can't reconcile this bit with what she said earlier.

Despite the Prozac-happy theatrical performance on the Shelbourne's sofa, Parton hasn't lived a life untouched by sadness.  Despite coming from such a large family herself, Dolly never had children.  Did she put her career before a family?  "I couldn't have children.  I had some problems.  Before I knew I couldn't have children we tried not to for a while and then when we tried to have them we realized we couldn't have them."  Another unhappy time was after she made the The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas movie in 1982.  She sank into a long depression.  "I had got overweight and I had a lot of female problems, hormone problems and had a bad period of my life.  For 18 months I had a really hard time and I just finally said 'Get off your fat ass and move that weight.  Get out of this depression or blow your brains out."'

You were suicidal?

"You go through those thoughts," she says, suddenly not giggling any more.  "You can relate to how people get on drugs and alcohol, or how they commit suicide.  I didn't do either but I certainly had a better understanding."  Her father was Republican, her mother a Democrat, there was always, she says, a bunch of fighting in the house about politics.  "I was a hypocrite not a democrat," she chortles.  She adds that she was approached to run for governor of Tennessee this past race but was not the least bit interested.  "I sure hate politics," she says in that thick southern belle accent.  "I have very strong opinions but I don't voice them in the papers."

She speaks in the patois of a homespun country girl.  The hick Tennessee gal act wears a bit thin when you realize that Parton fronts a multi-million dollar media empire, Dolly Parton Enterprises her theme park, Dollywood, is the most popular tourist attraction in her home State.

And I don't love her any less for the performance that Friday afternoon in The Shelbourne.  As a mater of fact, I felt that she had got something off her chest.  But doesn't everyone?  That's Dolly's gift.

Dolly Parton plays The Point on November 29.