Dolly Parton famously turned down Elvis Presley when he wanted to record her song "I Will Always Love You," choosing to keep her publishing on what would go on to become one of the most performed songs of all time after Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, insisted that Presley get half of the song's publishing. In a new interview with Billboard, Parton looked back on her life-changing decision, crediting her father with instilling in her the business sense that has served her throughout her decades-long career.
"That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do because I loved Elvis," Parton said. "Even though my daddy didn’t get an education, my daddy was really smart in making deals and bargaining and how he raised a family like he did." Parton wrote "I Will Always Love You" in 1973 and recorded it for her 1974 album, Jolene. It went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in June 1974 and again in October 1982 after Parton re-recorded it for the soundtrack of the movie version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
"That was my most important copyright at the time," Parton explained to Billboard. "If it had been a new song, I might have considered it." Still, she remarked that "[Presley] would have sung it great. Can you imagine Elvis singing 'I Will Always Love You?'" After Parton, Whitney Houston later famously sang the song for the soundtrack to the 1992 film The Bodyguard, that version spending a record-breaking 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and going on to become one of the best-selling singles of all time and the best-selling single by a woman in music history — and Parton had the publishing.
Parton's manager, Danny Nozell, explained that the singer's kindness and acumen combine to give her the decision-making skills she's famous for. "[In meetings], she’s tactful in her approach, but she also will lay down what she will and won’t do," he said. "You’ll know immediately in a room that one thing you won’t be doing is taking advantage of Dolly Parton."
Along with her vast catalog of songs, Parton has expanded her empire into movies, television projects and of course, her theme park, Dollywood. She also recently signed a deal with international licensing company IMG for a series of Parton-branded goods that will launch this fall. "I often wonder why more artists don’t do more things like that to have something to fall back on if things don’t work out the way they’d hoped — or just to have something more," she mused. "I feel like even if I wasn’t popular anymore, I could always sing at Dollywood."