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5 times Dolly Parton proved to be an icon we don’t deserve

By Alma Fabiani

Mar 18, 2022

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“Not only is she one of the world’s greatest songwriters, she’s also one of the world’s most beloved people—everyone loves Dolly Parton,” The Daily Show host Trevor Noah stated on 16 March. And who am I to disagree? Be it through her musical talents or renowned self-deprecating talk-show presence, if there’s at least one thing the internet can agree on, it’s that the country music star is an absolute icon adored by all.

Because we’re firm believers in giving credit where credit is due, we dove into Parton’s many memorable exploits and selected five that stood out as particularly rock and roll. Buckle up, because you’re in for some wholesome treats.

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1. She turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom not once, but twice

In case you didn’t know, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is literally the highest civilian award in the US and contains numerous categories. Presented by the current US president himself to individuals who have made extraordinary meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the country, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours, it was first established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy.

Previous recipients include Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, Bill and Melinda Gates, Joe Biden—who was awarded it by President Barack Obama at the time—and even Ellen DeGeneres. We sincerely hope that when Obama selected the comedian and TV host back in 2016, he wasn’t aware of how bad of a person DeGeneres actually is.

But I digress, my point is, this medal is a huge deal. And yet, Parton—probably the most deserving recipient of them all—pretty much said ‘I’m good’ when asked whether she would accept it. And she refused not once, but twice.

Speaking to NBC’s TODAY programme, Parton explained, “I got offered the freedom award from the Trump administration. I couldn’t accept it because my husband was ill. Then they asked me again about it and I wouldn’t travel because of COVID.”

Then she added that she had already heard from the Biden administration. “Now I feel like if I take it, it’ll be doing politics, so I’m not so sure.” Parton being Parton, she continued by stating that she doesn’t feel like she deserves the award anyway, “but it’s a nice compliment for people to think I might deserve it.”

How crazy is it that she would even think that way of herself? To put things in context, the country singer donated $1 million (£732,665) in 2020 to research into COVID-19 vaccines at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Nashville. It was one of the trial sites for the Moderna vaccine, which has since been approved for use in a number of countries, including the UK and the US.

In fact, Parton has a long history of philanthropy—one that stretches back several decades. She has supported child literacy initiatives through her Dollywood Foundation and has also given to and raised money for wildlife—she literally helped save eagles from extinction, no biggie—and HIV/AIDS charities, among other things.

Dolly, dear, just accept the damn medal once and for all.

2. She took herself out of this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominations

In February 2022, Parton was named on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) shortlist alongside fellow first-time nominees Eminem, Lionel Richie, Duran Duran and A Tribe Called Quest. The Cleveland-based institution had announced 17 artists and groups being considered for induction, also including Rage Against the Machine, Pat Benatar, Dionne Warwick, Carly Simon, Judas Priest and Beck. But the queen that she is had other plans.

On Monday 14 March, Parton announced on Twitter that she would be pulling out of this year’s nominations, saying she hasn’t “earned that right” and didn’t want to take votes away from the remaining nominees. “Even though I am extremely flattered and grateful to be nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I don’t feel that I have earned that right. I really do not want votes to be split because of me, so I must respectfully bow out,” she wrote.

“I do hope that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will understand and be willing to consider me again—if I’m ever worthy,” Parton’s statement continued. “I wish all of the nominees good luck and thank you again for the compliment,” she concluded. “Rock on!”

The other nominees in the Country Music Hall of Fame category are Kate Bush, DEVO, Eurythmics, Fela Kuti, MC5 and the New York Dolls. I mean… Come on now.

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3. She helped build a hospital in honour of the doctor who delivered her

In 2006, Parton pledged $500,000 to the construction of a $90 million hospital and cancer centre in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee. Why? To honour the physician who delivered her in 1946, Doctor Robert F. Thomas. “Daddy paid him with a sack of cornmeal,” she remembered during a surprise appearance at a dinner hosted by health care provider Covenant Health to celebrate the state approval of the hospital.

“And I’ve always joked that I’ve been raking in the dough ever since,” Parton continued. “I felt like it was time to step up and do a little more.” She also named a song after him. Again, no biggie.

4. She wrote ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ in one day

In 2017, Parton told The Bobby Bones Show that she was having a “good writing day” when she penned what would become iconic hits for herself and Whitney Houston in 1972. In the video, the radio host plays a clip of ‘I Will Always Love You’ and points out that there’s a generational difference between whether someone might associate the song with Parton or Houston, whose cover of the song went on to be the iconic version that many know today.

Meanwhile, ‘Jolene’ is now Parton’s signature song and, according to the country queen herself, is her most-covered song. Some of the song’s most famous covers include versions by Olivia Newton-John, Ellie Goulding, and Parton’s goddaughter, Miley Cyrus. ‘Jolene’ was released in October 1973 and ‘I Will Always Love You’ the following year, in June 1974.

5. She secretly helped produce ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

That’s right, from 1997 to 2003, Parton was an uncredited executive producer on the American supernatural drama television series based on the 1992 film of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her production company Sandollar Productions, which she co-founded along with her former manager Sandy Gallin in 1986, is credited as one of the series’ producers. Although the film didn’t get great reviews, executives with Sandollar had confidence in the storyline. From there, the duo also produced the TV show.

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Though we had to limit ourselves to five moments—if not, we would be here forever—it’s important to note that Parton has played a part in many, many other achievements that have helped change the world as we know it. From her iconic answer to a Black Lives Matter-related question, “Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter?” to becoming the largest employer in the county she grew up in, one thing is for sure: Parton is one of the most influential celebrities out there.

So why don’t you digest all of this by playing Best of Dolly Parton in the background and sipping on a delicious glass of red wine—the singer’s favourite drink, apparently.