What tragic things about Dolly Parton does everyone just ignore? If there’s one figure in the entertainment industry who’s truly become an icon over the years, it’s her. After all, who doesn’t jam out to “Jolene” or “I Will Always Love You” when they’re deep in their feelings? The latter is practically the most famous ballad out there, and Parton is the reason the song exists in the first place. To put it lightly, Parton is a huge figure in the country music industry, and she’s been wildly successful for decades, showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
According to PBS, Parton didn’t waste any time when it came to pursuing her career, as right after she graduated high school, she moved to Nashville to give singing a go. After that, it didn’t take long before she was discovered, and began starring on a television show. Ever since then, Parton has celebrated many triumphs in life, all the while sporting her signature big hair and stand-out makeup.
But as glamorous as her life is now, it wasn’t always, as Dolly Parton has a tragic, real-life story. And it probably shouldn’t be ignored, honestly.
Dolly Parton tragically grew up in poverty
Dolly Parton has undergone a stunning transformation. Though many people may see her — with her big hair, stunning makeup, and fancy clothes — and just assume she’s never had money problems, that’s far from the truth. In fact, Parton grew up with 11 siblings in the Smoky Mountains, and her family was seriously impoverished.
In a 1978 interview with Larry Grobel, Parton revealed that her family was so poor, she struggled to stay clean. “We bathed once a week once a week whether we needed it or not, as the saying goes,” she recalled. Additionally, in an essay published by Guideposts, Parton explained that her life growing up was far from charmed, but her family made it work. “Finding a way to put everything to good use, that was a way of life in the Smokies,” she wrote. “It wasn’t just about taking care of what we’d been given. It was about survival, about trying every day, every minute, to make things a little bit better.”
As tragic as it sounds, Parton doesn’t regret her childhood in poverty, as it helped shape her into the strong woman she is today.
As a child, Dolly Parton tragically struggled to stay warm
Though Dolly Parton is southern through and through, that didn’t shield her entirely from the elements. Sure, the south might not get quite as cold as places in the northern United States, but Parton still experienced some freezing nights, as her family’s poverty meant they couldn’t always keep warm.
As Parton wrote in an essay for Guideposts, “It was so cold the day I came into the world that when the kitchen in our one-room cabin was mopped, the water left a film of ice on the floor.” And in an interview with Larry Grobel, Parton explained that when her siblings wet the bed, she actually kind of welcomed it. “That was the only warm thing we knew in the wintertime,” she revealed, after Grobel asked if she got up to wash herself. “That was almost a pleasure to get peed on because it was so cold. Lord.” That’s on top of the fact that she and her siblings slept bundled up, as it was just as cold inside as it was out. Brrrr!
If that tragedy doesn’t show you just how far Parton has come, nothing will.
Tragically, Dolly Parton has lost more than one sibling
Although Dolly Parton grew up with a whopping 11 siblings, she still had close relationships with many of them. So when she had to say goodbye to one of her brothers far too soon, it was seriously tragic: Larry Parton passed away when he was only four days old back in 1955, according to Fox News. Naturally, Parton was heartbroken, as she was especially close to this baby. “There is a lot of heartache and stuff that goes on with that,” she shared.
Then, in 2018, the singer lost another another sibling, Dolly Parton’s brother Floyd Estel Parton, when he tragically passed away at the age of 61. Dolly and Floyd were especially close, too, as he’d been a songwriting partner of hers for years. “Dolly, and the entire Parton Family, wish to thank everyone for their kindness,” the singer shared in a statement on Twitter. “Yesterday, we laid our sweet baby brother to rest.” The statement added that his life, though it might have been cut short, was full of “love and beautiful songs.” We’re so sorry for your losses, Dolly.
Dolly Parton has had some tragic physical trauma as well
Clearly, Dolly Parton didn’t have a typical childhood; even her childhood injuries are interesting, just like the rest of her life. No, Parton never complained about a skinned knee or even a broken bone. Instead, Parton almost lost some body parts, believe it or not. That’s just one of the things you didn’t know about Dolly Parton.
In an interview with Dr. Mehmet Oz, Parton revealed that when she was a kid, she almost lost some of her toes. “I was probably about six or seven,” she explained, (via People). “I had jumped across the fence onto a broken mason jar and cut three of my toes, just my little toes on my right foot, almost off and they were just kind of hanging there.” Parton added that her mother’s quick thinking led to her sewing her toes back on, which might sound scary, especially since the only anesthetic she had was kerosene. “But they worked and they healed and I’m still walking on them,” Parton added.
Almost losing your toes certainly isn’t the most common childhood tragedy, but it’s one that sets Parton apart.
A tragic fire took some of Dolly Parton's most cherished memories
Dolly Parton didn’t grow up with a lot of money, but she still had a few prized possessions as a child. Specifically, as she was so musically inclined for her entire life, there was a certain gift she was given when she was younger that meant the world to her.
In an interview with YourTango, Parton explained that one of her uncles had a Martin brand guitar that she was obsessed with, and that he eventually gave her. “That was my treasure,” she said. “When I left it home when I was 18 years old, I put it in the loft because it was beat up, and when I got money — when I got rich and famous [laughs] — I was going to have it fixed up.” Sadly, Parton never got the chance to do that, as the loft tragically burned down, taking the majority of the guitar with it. All that Parton has left of it is the neck.
While it’s sad that Parton lost something so special to her, here’s how much money Dolly Parton is actually worth.
Dolly Parton has tragically contemplated taking her own life
As glamorous as her life might look from the outside, Dolly Parton has gone through some seriously tragic times. According to the book, Dolly on Dolly, Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton, one of those tough times lead her to contemplate ending her life.
In one of the interviews compiled in the tome, Parton described a period in the ’80s when she was severely depressed; at that point, she had struggled with both heartache and her weight. One night, the pain led her to pick up the gun she owned (for home security purposes) and consider taking her life — but then her dog, Popeye, interrupted her. “The tap-tap-tap of his paws jolted me back to reality [and] I suddenly froze,” Parton said. “I put the gun down. Then I prayed. I kinda believe Popeye was a spiritual messenger from God.”
Having her life saved by her dog is yet another way in which Parton’s life has proved far more heartbreaking than you might have assumed.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Dolly Parton tragically had to pull the plug on one of her longest partnerships
One well-known fact about Dolly Parton is that she’s the original songwriter and performer of “I Will Always Love You.” Though many people are more familiar with Whitney Houston’s version of the song, it was Parton’s creation (though she loves Houston’s version, too, according to Tennessean). But while the song may seem to be about a romantic relationship, it’s actually about one of Parton’s longest-running work relationships — one she had to pull the plug on.
In an interview with the Nashville Songwriters Association International (via Tennessean), Parton explained why she wrote the hit ballad. “I worked with a show called The Porter Wagoner Show,” she recalled. “We kind of butted heads all the time, but we loved each other.” She added that there was a great passion between them.
But when Parton was ready to leave the show, Wagoner was reluctant to let her go. So, Parton did what she does best: she wrote a song about it. After she sang the song for Wagoner, he finally understood that he had to release her — after she promised to let him produce it, of course.
Tragically, Dolly Parton had to go to court with her mother
When it comes to dealing with money and family, it can get pretty awkward for anyone. Things can seriously go off the rails if there are a lot of siblings involved, and everyone believes that they know what’s best for all involved. For Dolly Parton’s family, the drama erupted when most of the clan decided their mother wasn’t able to care for herself. Unfortunately, that meant Parton had to take things into her own hands.
In 2001, it was reported that Parton was facing off against her mother in court. Specifically, as the Houston Chronicle reported, a lawsuit was filed in Sevier County Chancery Court; in it, Parton and her siblings — save for two of them — claimed that their mother, who was 77 at the time, couldn’t take care of herself. Because of that, Parton and the majority of her siblings requested their mother, Avie Parton, hand over control of both her finances and medical issues.
Tragically, in 2003, the case was still unsettled, and it’s unclear if the family got any closure, according to CMT. Perhaps that’s the real reason Dolly Parton never had kids.
Both of Dolly Parton's parents tragically have passed away
Given that Dolly Parton is the true epitome of a Cinderella story, she’s faced some of the tragedies that you’d expect. Still, that doesn’t make the fact that both of Parton’s parents have passed away any less heartbreaking. And while everyone has to eventually come to terms with the fact that their parents will likely pass away before them, it’s still tragic.
In 2001, on a Sunday in November, Parton’s father, Robert Lee Parton, died at the Baptist Hospital of East Tennessee in Knoxville, according to CMT. Then, in 2003, CMT reported that Parton’s mother, Avie Parton, passed away on Friday, December 5. Both of those deaths must have been hard on Parton, but seeing as she was especially close to her father, it wouldn’t be surprising if that death hit her particularly hard.
It’s not easy to lose a parent, especially for Parton, who’s already had so much loss in her life. Perhaps it’s not so easy being Dolly Parton for a day after all.
Dolly Parton may be married, but she's not immune to tragic heartbreak
Anyone who knows Dolly Parton knows that she’s a loyal woman. Though she’s amassed plenty of fame and fortune, she still supports her hometown and remains extremely humble. However, it appears that as loyal as she may be, Parton had her heart broken by a friend, which might have caused one of the worst depressions of her life.
According to the book, Dolly on Dolly, Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton, in the ’80s, Parton had to contend with a “special friend” who had an “affair of the heart.” The pain from the fallout eventually led to her having severe depression, which in turn caused her to binge eat. And, seeing as Parton married her longtime husband, Carl Dean, in 1966, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that her heartbreak was over someone not her husband.
That said, it’s pretty tragic that Parton went through all that, as heartbreak is never easy for anyone. And in case you were curious, here’s what else you didn’t know about Dolly Parton’s marriage.
Tragically, Dolly Parton has been harassed
Given that Dolly Parton is extremely famous, it’s not surprising that the singer-songwriter has dealt with harassment. In fact, in an interview with Elle about the #MeToo movement, Parton revealed that she understands what it’s like for women who’ve been taken advantage of by powerful men in Hollywood. “I’ve been fortunate, more fortunate than most women have,” she confessed. “I’ve certainly been harassed in my life. I’ve certainly had to put up with a lot of BS.” The fact that she’s had to deal with that is super tragic.
However, Parton added that she felt she was capable of handling the harassment. “I was always strong enough to walk away from it and not to have to fall under it,” she continued, adding that because she grew up in a small town, she feels that the people were always nicer. “It’s not like out there in the big world, like in California, where they chew you up and spit you out, or in New York, where they don’t have time, or in other big cities,” she said.
Dolly Parton tragically never had kids
Over the years, Dolly Parton has remained child-free, a choice that some of her fans may have questioned. However, not having kids wasn’t always the plan for Parton and her husband; it appears as though the two tragically weren’t able to start a family. “My husband and I, when we first got married, we thought about if we had kids, ‘What would they look like? Would they be tall because he’s tall? Or would they be little squats like me?'” she mused in an interview with The Guardian. She added that if she’d had a daughter, she would have named her Carla.
But as time went on, Parton came to realize that children just weren’t in the cards for her. “We talked about it, and we dreamed it, but it wasn’t meant to be,” she continued.
While it may disappoint fans that Parton never had children, she feels the decision was meant to be. “Now that we’re older? We’re glad,” Parton added, with the caveat, “I would have been a great mother, I think.” But because she would have had to sacrifice so much, it all worked out in the end.
This is the tragic reason Dolly Parton wrote the song "Jolene"
Dolly Parton and her husband, Carl Dean, have been married since 1966, so they’ve clearly been through a lot together. In spite of the passing of multiple members of Parton’s family, her career highs and lows, and everything in between, the two have kept their relationship intact. However, the real reason Dolly Parton wrote the song “Jolene” was because a beautiful woman became smitten with Parton’s husband.
In an interview with NPR, Parton revealed the story behind the song — and it all started with a gorgeous woman at their bank. “She got this terrible crush on my husband,” Parton explained. “And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention.” After that, it became a running joke between the couple, as Parton questioned why her husband was always at the bank. “I don’t believe we’ve got that kind of money,” she joked.
The song put a stop to the flirty banker’s advances, but Parton added that, “You’re always threatened by other women, period,” even if you are Dolly freaking Parton.
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