Whatever you do, don’t call Dolly a dumb blonde. Or do, she doesn’t care. “I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes,” she said, “because I know I’m not dumb… and I also know that I’m not blonde.” Such is the image she has created for herself over her fifty year career, a big-bosomed blonde in a tight dress with a smart mouth, who loves everyone in her path and would never let a soul cry alone. From small-town child star to Hollywood mainstay to grandmotherly philanthropist, Dolly spent decades in the spotlight making sure anyone who wanted to could end up there, too.
Born fourth in a family of 12, Dolly grew up in rural Tennessee, the daughter of a farmhand, in a style she would later recall as “dirt poor.” She got her first break at ten on the Cas Walker Show, and the day after she graduated high school, in 1966, she moved over to Nashville where she quickly met the man that would be her husband. (Carl Dean has been the invisible hand behind her career, staying out of the public eye for their fifty years of marriage, despite rumors of an affair with her Islands in the Stream collaborator, Kenny Rogers.) She became one of the foremost country voices in country, penning songs like Jolene, I Will Always Love You, and Coat of Many Colors, before becoming the first crossover star with Here You Come Again.
In 1980, she had her first starring role in 9 to 5 — a film about women in the workplace that remains annoyingly relevant — and followed it up with another classic in 1989, Steel Magnolias. She’s run Dollywood in the Smokey Mountains since 1986, and in 1995, she started the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends children a free book every month from birth to their fifth birthday.
Over the years, she’s been known for her wit and good-natured charm as much as her songwriting skills and vocal range. She’ll call herself out for looking like a tramp before anyone else can. (“We didn’t get to go to the movies and we lived way back,” she said. “So my look was inspired by the town tramp.”) But listen to Dolly’s jokes, and you’ll end up learning a lot about being a good person: “People make jokes about my bosoms,” she’s said. “Why don’t they look underneath the breasts at the heart?”
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