Dolly Parton
More Magazine
May 2002
Dishing With Dolly
By Degen Pener


The world will always love Dolly Parton—and not just because she's one of the most divinely female creations on the planet.  Sure, her off-the-charts measurements and towering platinum hair are hard to ignore, but they're merely rococo embellishments on one formidably talented package.  The fourth of 12 children born on a farm in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Parton has transformed herself into one of country's biggest crossover sensations, recording more than 50 solo albums, winning seven Grammys and composing more than 3,000 songs.  And with the overwhelming success of Dollywood, the self-themed entertainment park she founded in 1986, she's become a down-home mogul as well.  But Parton is not the type to rest on her laurels.  This summer, she releases Halos and Horns, her third bluegrass album in four years; this month, she costars with comic Dave Sheridan in Touchstone Pictures' Frank McKlusky, C.I.  At 56, Parton is as unstoppable, as unpredictable and as outspoken as ever.

Apparently, your new movie is as outrageous as a Jim Carrey comedy.  Why did you decide to do it?
"Well, I haven't done a movie in a long time.  Because of my age and my personality, I don't really get a lot of offers.  This film is pretty raunchy.  I accepted my part before I read the whole script.  Then when I did read it, I went, 'Oh, my God.'  I wondered what the family-oriented people would think.  But I had already accepted the movie and I couldn't back out of it."
Sounds like it can't have offended you too much.
"Well, none of it's done for the sake of being vulgar.  And I never do anything that I don't feel I can back up in my own way.  I'm old enough to know better, but still young enough not to resist."
Your return to bluegrass in the past four years has been met with so much critical acclaim that you're going on tour this summer for the first time in ten years.  What made you decide to return to your mountain roots?
"Country music had changed, and people my age certainly were not getting played on the radio.  I couldn't get record labels interested or excited.  They look at it as, 'You were great, but you're a has-been.'  I'm as good as I ever was.  I thought, 'I'll never stop writing songs, if I have to record them myself and sell them out the back of my car!'  One day, a friend of mine told me about a survey that had shown that the one person people would love to hear do a bluegrass album was Dolly Parton.  I said, 'Really?  Let's do one!'  It won the Grammy that year."
That kind of success must be particularly fulfilling now.
"This is the kind of music I've always loved, but I could never make any money at it.  I still don't make any money at it, even though I've had two critically acclaimed albums.  The joke I've always made is that I had to go off and get rich in order to sing like I'm poor again.  Now that I've done some of everything, I can go back and do really quality music.  It's in every fiber of my body.  I call it my Smoky Mountain DNA.  I lived with no water, no electricity, no indoor plumbing for years, without knowing there was something else outside of it.  When I record these songs, it's so real to me."
Didn't I hear that you'll be playing Mae West in a TV movie?
"I'm doing the Mae West story for ABC.  I've read everything about her, and I've always related to her in a way—being little and blonde and bawdy."
What do you think of the rumor that she was really a man?
"She just 'had balls,' and maybe that's where they got that.  She was more than met the eye; she wasn't just a sex symbol."
Similar things have been said about you.
"Well, I've always said I look like a woman but I think like a man.  I do have six brothers and a dad and tons of uncles.  I understand men.  I love men.  I know how to hold my place in their area, but I'm still a woman."
What about you do you think has been the most misunderstood?
[Laughing]  "Oh, many things.  People see you doing something and say, 'I didn't know she could do that.  I thought she was just tits and hair.'  People think I'm as shallow and superficial as I look, and it's a surprise when they find out, sure enough, I am!"
You're also quite the gay icon.  Why do you think that is?
"Like I've always said, if I hadn't been a woman I'd have been a drag queen!  I'm glad that I'm so accepted in the gay community.  Guys either want to dress like me or they appreciate the fact that I'm so out there.  I've always been myself, and it makes them feel it's okay to be themselves, whatever they are.  Gay is not something you do.  It's something you are."
You started out so young.  When you first went on television at age ten, did you truly appreciate what it all meant?
"I was singing on television before we owned one, before we even had electricity.  I was just this little kid who would pick this big guitar and sing songs I wrote.  Since I was from a family of twelve, I didn't get all that much personal attention.  So I just kind of grew from there, because I wanted to impress people.  My desire to do stuff was greater man my fear of it.  God must really push me people he's got his hand on."
Has it been hard being such a success and having so many siblings?
"It's been hard and not hard.  Some of them have a difficult time dealing with some of it.  Some of them don't at all.  Hopefully, they're all proud of me.  So many of them are just as talented as me, but haven't had the same kind of success.  In different times in my life I kinda had a little guilt that I was the one who made it out.  But my momma said, 'God knows you had a big heart, so he picked the one who'd help me most.'"
You've been married to your husband, Carl Dean, for 36 years.  But there have also been rumors that you've had affairs with everyone from Burt Reynolds to James Woods.
"I don't deny or admit anything for sure.  I'd rather be thought of as passionate and exciting than as some vanilla person who's never done anything.  I always say the best kisser I kissed in the movies was James Woods, who I did Straight Talk with.  I saw him with his girlfriend once and I said it right in front of her.  And he still is the best kisser I ever kissed, including my husband.  People ask me, 'Kiss better than Stallone?  Kiss better than Burt Reynolds?'  I say, 'Yeah!'  I've enjoyed every rumor."
Dolly, you've always had such a positive life outlook.  Is it something you have to work at?
"I was born with a happy heart.  I have a good attitude, but when I hurt, I hurt all over.  I've been through many sad things, back when I was going through the darkest time of my life."
Was that in the early Eighties?
"Yes.  I was overweight, having a lot of female problems, having some personal problems as well.  Everybody comes to a place where you have to make some decisions.  You're fat.  You're miserable.  You've got to get on a diet and decide what you want to do with your life.  I had worked so hard, and suddenly, I was a middle-aged woman.  It hit me all at once.  Getting through that time was the best thing that ever happened to me.  It made me slow down and pick the wheat from the chaff.  I still have hard times, but I won't let it get me down.  You gotta work at being happy, like you gotta work at being miserable."
How did you learn to stay thin?
"I went on every diet there ever was.  I did Optifast at UCLA.  I was monitored and lost thirty pounds.  I did the Atkins diet, the Scarsdale diet—I did everything I could to get the weight off.  And the way I've maintained it is to just eat small portions of what I like.  I don't eat diet foods or drink diet drinks."
Anything left that's still an indulgence?
"Potatoes are my weakness.  Au gratin.  Fried.  Hashed.  Every diet I fell off of was because of potatoes.  You just have to watch it when you are this short and have an appetite this big."
How would you describe your style?
"I have no class and no style!  But I'm happy doing what I do.  The fact that it all looks so totally artificial but that I'm so totally real has created a bit of magic."
You once said your look was inspired by the town tramp.  Was there really a town tramp where you grew up?
"There truly was.  She probably didn't do near as much stuff as she was accused of, but everyone said she was trash.  She wore high-heel shoes and had red fingernails and red lipstick.  I thought she was beautiful, and that's what I wanted to look like.  I wanted my boobs to stick out.  I wanted to wear sweaters.  I wanted yellow hair.  It's a country girl's idea of glamour."
Do you ever get tired of all the painting and powdering it takes to look like Dolly Parton?
"I love it.  It's like painting with crayons every day.  I love makeup.  I love loud colors and beautiful clothes and jewelry.  I hate being plain.  Even when I'm around the house, I can only go so long without putting on some lipstick.  I'll walk by the mirror and go, 'Who is that hag?  I don't care to know her!'"
You've been upfront in the past about having a few nips and tucks.  What's the latest plastic surgery you've had?
"My husband cut up all my credit cards."
Come on.
"I haven't had any in a long time.  That's not to say that I won't when I need it."
Any anti-aging techniques?
"I think attitude is the greatest asset that anybody can ever have.  I never allow myself to think that I'm old.  The key is finding joy in what you do.  And don't sit on your old ass and just go to seed."
I read somewhere that you thought the years from 50 to 100 would be the best of your life.  How's it turning out so far?
"It's turning out great.  To be honest with you, I worked so hard the first half of my life; sometimes you can go so fast and meet yourself coming back from the other direction.  I just turned fifty-six last week.  I feel the same way I did when I left home.  The funny thing about getting old is you don't realize it.  Now, I feel so lucky.  I have almost a whole new career with my music again.  I'm as old as yesterday, as new as tomorrow.  As long as I'm living, I'm going to be always hustling."
Is there still a lot you want to accomplish?
"I'm very involved in education and youth programs with The Dollywood Foundation and The Imagination Library.  I love kids; I never had any of my own.  I'd love to do some great things in the world of children's books.  I want to have a line of Southern foods called Dolly's Dixie Fixin's.  And I want to continue doing movies.  I don't ever intend to stop."
So you don't ever want to retire?
"Absolutely not!  I hope to die on the spot doing a joyful project at a hundred."
One last thing, Dolly:  Who would you like to play you in a movie of your life?
"Me!  What the hell are you talking about?"