Dolly Parton is one of the most iconic entertainers in country music, with her career spanning over 50 years and over 70 albums, 41 of which have earned Top 10 spots on the charts. The Tennessee native has earned nine Grammy Awards, ten Country Music Association Awards and seven Academy of Country Music Awards.
Parton is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She has composed over 3,000 songs, 700 of which she wrote on her own, and has sold millions of albums. She's also expanded into other ventures including film, and has been nominated for the Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the Emmy Awards and the Tony Awards. She is also a noted philanthropist and opened her own theme park, Dollywood, near her hometown.
She celebrates her 74th birthday on Jan. 19, and is just as legendary as ever — scroll through to learn more about Parton.
Her family was so poor, her father paid for her birth with a sack of cornmeal.
Parton has always been candid about her upbringing, growing up extremely poor in rural Tennessee with her parents and siblings. When Parton was born in 1946, the fourth of 12 children, her father paid for her birth with a sack of cornmeal.
“People hear me talk about eating squirrel and groundhogs, but in the mountains like that, you really didn’t have much of a choice,” Parton told Rolling Stone. “There were twelve of us kids. We never ate possum — I remember Daddy saying, ‘That’s like a damn rat.’ But we ate everything — turtle, frogs. I just remember the big old groundhogs — whistle pigs, they called them — and you’d cook ’em with sweet potatoes, and you’d have different ways of making some of that gamy taste go away.”
The artist has discussed her family's poverty in multiple songs including "Coat of Many Colors," which went on to be adapted into a television movie. She explained to Rolling Stone that while her family was poor, she didn't let that negatively her outlook on life.
She owns the Dollywood theme park
Parton may own the park, which is located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but she's never ridden any of the coasters Dollywood has to offer its many guests.
"My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once said. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."
“I’ve got too much to lose — like my hair!” she jokingly added to USA Today. “Lord knows what else could fall out of me. I can think of a lot of other things I’d rather do than be scared to death [on a coaster].”
She had her toes sewn back on as a child
Parton shared on The Dr. Oz Show that when she was about six or seven years old, she jumped over a fence and landed on a broken mason jar, which caused her to "cut three of my toes, just my little toes on my right foot, almost off and they were just kind of hanging there."
As her family was so poor, they couldn't afford medical treatment, so her mother, Avie, stepped in to do what she could for her daughter.
“So they grabbed me up and all my dad and my brothers, they had to hold me down. Momma, she put cornmeal — now, you’re a doctor, you might know, I think the cornmeal was to absorb the blood,” Parton recalled. “They put kerosene on it for antiseptic and momma took her sewing needles — she used to make our quilts and stuff, and she literally had to sew my toes back on. But they worked and they healed and I’m still walking on them.”
She once lost a Dolly Parton drag queen contest
Parton once entered a drag contest in which contestants dressed as the singer, but she didn't even come close to winning.
"At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard where all the guys were dressed up like me and I just overexaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she once recalled to Robin Roberts. "I didn't win. I didn't even come in close, I don't think."
She eloped with her husband, Carl Dean, in 1966
Parton and her husband tied the knot when the singer was 18, but they had to get married in secret because Parton's record label wanted her to appear to be single.
“We’d already sent out invitations and so I thought, 'I ain’t waiting!'" Parton recalled to PEOPLE. "We went that same weekend to Ringgold, Georgia in a little church. I had a little white dress and little flowers, and my mom went with me.”
The two will have been married for 53 years in May, and in 2016, the couple renewed their vows at their home in Nashville to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
“I never really felt like I had the wedding that we really wanted,” Parton said of her decision to have a renewal ceremony. “He got all dressed up and I got all dressed up. Fifty years is a long time for anything, and I felt that we needed to do something to commemorate this. It’s been a good 50 years and I don’t know how many more years we’ll have left.”
She wrote 'I Will Always Love You' when she was trying to get away from being on Porter Wagoner's TV show
One of Parton's most iconic songs, "I Will Always Love You" was written when she took a professional break from working with Porter Wagoner, who she began achieving success with in the late '60s when she began appearing on The Porter Wagoner Show. Wagoner had invited Parton to join his television show and his road show in 1967, and the duo eventually recorded multiple albums together. Parton later stopped appearing on the show in 1974.
“I was trying to get away on my own because I had promised to stay with Porter’s show for five years. I had been there for seven,” Parton told CMT. “And we fought a lot. We were very much alike. We were both stubborn. We both believed that we knew what was best for us. Well, he believed he knew what was best for me, too, and I believed that I knew more what was best for me at that time. So, needless to say, there was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn’t listening to my reasoning for my going.”
“I thought, ’He’s never going to listen. He’s just going to bitch every day that I go in to talk about this.’" she continued. "So I thought, ’Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you just write this song?’ Because I knew at that time I was going to go, no matter what. So I went home and out of a very emotional place in me at that time, I wrote the song, ’I Will Always Love You.'”
Her favorite restaurant is Taco Bell
Parton may be one of the most successful artists in country music, but her tastes remain simple, especially when it comes to food. In fact, she and her husband often enjoy date nights from Taco Bell, taking their RV through the restaurant's drive-through.
"Carl and I have a little camper, a little RV, and we're always driving through fast food restaurants to get our stuff," she told Andy Cohen on SiriusXM. "That's one of the things we do. I'm always in the front seat. Sometimes they know me, sometimes they don't."
"I love their tacos. They also have little pizzas that I love," she added of Taco Bell, though that isn't the only venue they frequent. "Date night, we do whatever feels happy and comfortable with us. It's hard for me to get him to dress up to go to a nice dinner because he's just a country boy and hates that stuff. We do whatever's good. We have a good time."
She added to Rolling Stone that she still enjoys several staples of her childhood, saying she's still “a white-trash person. I still eat Velveeta.”
“I grew up with that stuff and I never got over it," she added.
She has multiple tattoos
Parton revealed on the Dolly Parton's America podcast the the rumors about her tattoos are true.
"I have a few tattoos on my body. They are not meant to be tattoos for the sake of tattoos," she told host Jad Abumrad, explaining that she got the ink to cover scars on her fair skin from various procedures.
"So I, when I first started gettin' a few little things done, I had a few little tattoos to cover up the scarring," she said. "But I'm not tattooed all over like a bikewoman or anything."
Parton described herh tattoos as "very delicate" and shared that many were done in pastel ink. "I have some butterflies, I have some lace and some little bows — a couple things like that," she said.
She started the Imagination Library because her father was illiterate
Along with being an entertainer, Parton is also a philanthropist, and one of her causes is her Imagination Library, which she founded in 1995. The library sends children all over the world books to encourage literacy, and Parton started the organization because of her father, who couldn't read or write.
While he was illiterate, Parton credited her father for inspiring her business savvy, telling Rolling Stone, “but Daddy was real smart when it came to knowing the value of a dollar and how to make a deal, whether it was a horse trade or whatever.”
Photo Credit: Getty / NBC