why dolly parton is the greatest
Caro Cooper counts the ways.
Dolly Parton is universally adored. For a while there, when I was little and too dumb to understand much, I just saw boobs and that was all I knew of Dolly. She was a blonde boob punchline. But as I grew and learnt and listened, I got it. She’s so much more – she’s a queen, a savvy businesswoman, a voice for women (especially working-class women), a unifier and bloody smart. She transcends her genre in a way so few stars ever could. And her dumb blonde jokes are better than any that get thrown her way.
This article would be easier to write if I could just list the reasons I don’t love Dolly Parton, like how she won’t answer my calls or give me a million dollars. Also, she won’t outright claim she’s a feminist even though she knows – we know; everyone knows – that she is a feminist. A feminst icon, even. In her own Dolly way.
If you don’t love “Jolene” or “9 to 5” you either don’t have a heart or haven’t had enough wine. For God’s sake, she wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” in one day. What have you done today? Dolly’s written close to 3000 songs over her seven-decade long career. I haven’t written my name that many times. She also gets up at 3am every day (apparently, it’s a Parton family trait) – maybe try setting an alarm tomorrow.
Dolly is a giver. And not just musically. Education is close to her heart: she started the Imagination Library, a free book program which has donated 178 million books to kids so far. She launched a buddy program in her hometown that drastically reduced high-school dropout rates. Just this year, her theme park, Dollywood, announced it would pay the college tuition fees of any employees who wish to study. Dolly cares about (and raises money for) teachers, hospitals, victims of bushfires and COVID-19 vaccine research. She rescues and rehabilitates bald eagles at Dollywood. And she advocates for sleeping in your makeup. Sorry Kanye, but she is a god.
Dolly is pro-LGBTIQ rights and has spoken out in support of trans rights, but she sidesteps most political issues. She loves, understands and forgives all, maybe even you. This helps Dolly bridge the political, racial and social divides, but when you think about it, it’s sort of… unsettling. I love Dolly for her authenticity, but how authentic can someone be if they don’t take a stand or pick a side? Dolly’s too smart not to have an opinion on political and social issues, but she’s also smart enough to know that would split her audience. At what cost, though, Dolly?
Imagine the power of Dolly getting behind AOC for president. Rhinestone that flag and start a revolution. At 76 you’d think maybe her empire was big enough and she’d be ready to lift that veil of mystery that shrouds the real Dolly. But why should Dolly do what we want? It’s another Dolly lesson: set your own limits; do what works for you.
You know what else Dolly keeps under wraps? Her tattoos. Apparently she’s got a bunch of colourful ribbons, bows and butterflies covering old scars. Rumour has it her arms are covered in them and that’s why she always wears long sleeves or gloves. Keep us guessing, Dolly.
Unlike most celebrities, Dolly didn’t come from money or connections, which makes her success all the more inspiring. Her family was poor in the real sense – as in, ‘12 kids in a one-room shack’, not poor like ‘can’t afford to Uber home’ poor. Her uncle wasn’t in the biz, her cousin wasn’t famous and she isn’t the wife of the owner of Sony. She’s as self-made as it gets, and she’s worth about $600 million. Oh, and she holds three Guinness World Records and can still rock a Playboy bunny suit at 76. Her brilliance never ends.