Dolly Parton is in mourning. On Wednesday, the country icon shared that her "funny, friendly and generous" uncle and mentor Bill Owens died at the age of 85. Parton shared news of his passing in an emotional tribute to her uncle, who was also a songwriter for some of country music's biggest names, on social
Shared across her various social media accounts and also to her website, the tribute remembered Owens as someone who had a "kind word for everybody." Parton said she "knew my heart would break when he passed, and it did," adding that she "wouldn't be here if he hadn't been there. He was there… there in my young years to encourage me to keep playing my guitar, to keep writing my songs, to keep practicing my singing." Owens had been crucial in launching Parton's career, taking her to local performances when she was younger and later helping her land her first gig on the Cas Walker Show. Parton said "he was there to help build my confidence standing on the stage where he was always standing behind me or close beside me with his big ol' red Gretsch guitar" and he was "there to take me around to all of the local show" and "took me back-&-forth to Nashville through the years."
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"It's really hard to say or to know for sure what all you owe somebody for your success. But I can tell you for sure that I owe Uncle Billy an awful lot," Parton wrote, going on to reflect on her uncle’s illustrious career. Saying that her uncle "was so many things," the singer said Owens loved music, to write, and sing and wrote "at least 800" songs throughout his life, including some they wrote together, like "Put It Off Until Tomorrow," which went on to win the 1966 BMI Song of the Year award. She also noted that her uncle "wrote songs that were recorded by Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, Ricky Skaggs, Kris Kristofferson and many others" and "traveled the road with many big artists playing his guitar, including playing on stage with me in my early years in Nashville."
Parton also highlighted her uncle’s involvement with her Dollywood theme park and "joined forces" with Dollywood, The American Chestnut Foundation, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and The American Eagle Foundation “to bring back the endangered chestnut tree to the Great Smoky Mountain area,” something she said was "his passion." He and his wife Sandy planted 70,000 trees there, according to Parton.
"I bet a lot of our own relatives don’t even know all of the great things that Uncle Bill did behind the scenes through his life. But the greatest thing he ever did for me was to help me see my dreams come true and for that, I will be forever grateful," Parton ended her message. "I'm sure that Uncle Bill’' friends, fans, his wife Sandy, his kids, grandkids and great-grandkids will join me when I say that we will always love you. Rest in peace, Uncle Bill."