Dolly Parton: Country Smart

Dolly Parton talks during a news conference for the opening of the Dixie Stampede in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, June 18, 2003. Parton wore red, white and blue, like an U.S. flag, to publicize her Dixie Stampede in Orlando. AP

When Dolly Parton sang her first hit, "Dumb Blonde," in 1967, the words were part warning, part tease -- be careful, there's more to me than meets the eye -- though, there's plenty of that, too.

"I'm pretty sharp. I'm not educated and I'm not that intelligent, but I'm smart," says Parton. "They say somebody's street smart. I feel like if I got intelligence, it's just a country smart."

Dolly's duet with emerging superstar Norah Jones at November's Country Music Awards was just the latest example of those country smarts, reports CBS News' Dan Rather.

After more than 40 years in a notoriously youth-oriented business, Parton is not just surviving; she's thriving.

"I'm just doing great," she says. "It's like you have to spend a lifetime in the business to really know kind of what you're doing … It's like this great song out of Nashville that Buddy Killen had, 'When I've learned enough to really live, I'll be old enough to die.'"

At age 58, despite having already sold more than 100 million records, Dolly Parton is nowhere near ready to be put out to pasture. In fact, these days, she's more likely to buy the pasture.

With her own theme parks (Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country), her own recording company, a chain of "Dixie Stampede" dinner theatres and other investments, the Dolly Parton empire is not valued in millions, but hundreds of millions.

"This is a multi-multi million dollar a year business," she says. "This is big. We've been open, like, 18 years, and we have 2, 2 1/2 million people come through here in a year.

Business is business, but the heart of the Dolly Parton empire is her music.

With two new CDs, "Just Because I'm a Woman" and "For God and Country," Parton is busy doing the same thing she's been doing since she was 7 years old: working hard at being a star.

"I believe this was my calling," Parton says. "When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of being a star. I didn't really know what all that meant. I didn't know. Of course, you can never see all the things that are going to happen. But, I wanted to be rich. I wanted to be famous. I wanted to travel. I wanted to be loved. And so, I just set out on that path with God as my helper.

Dolly Rebecca Parton is one of the last of a genuine country breed.

She was born in 1946, the fourth of 12 children, in a cabin with no electricity or indoor plumbing, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee.

Her family was dirt-poor, but still her father and mother gave her everything she needed to be a success.

"All my momma's people were very musical," she says. "My grandpa, who was the Pentecostal minister, he was a great musician. He played the fiddle, he played the piano."

She got the gift of music from her mother, and something just as important from her father.

"My dad never could read and write," Parton says. "My dad never got to go to school, but my daddy was so smart that all my life I wondered what my daddy could have been, had he really got an education. Because he just seemed to know what to do. Daddy could do these horse trades. Horse trading meaning not just horses, we call it horse trading, making business deals. And, I feel like I get my business sense from my daddy."

The first of her family to graduate from high school, Parton graduated on a Friday, headed to Nashville on Saturday and never looked back.

Her first break came in 1967 when she became a regular on a popular local music program, "The Porter Wagoner Show." For the next seven years, the hits and the awards rolled in.

In 1974, wanting to make it on her own, Parton made a split from Wagoner. Although they weren't romantically linked, professionally, it was a painful break.

But Parton did what great artists do – she turned her heartache into one of her most memorable songs.

"I just remember sitting down that night, I thought, 'Well, I've got to do something because my heart's breaking and his is, too, and I can't fight about it anymore,'" says Parton. "I just started, you know, writing what was coming out, like 'If I should stay / I would only be in your way / So I'll go but I know I'll think of you every step of the way / And I will always love you.' It just came out. And I wrote that song. I didn't time it because I didn't know at the time it was going to be such a big hit. But I bet that song didn't take me more than an hour to write. It just flowed."

Parton is a singer, but she is also a writer who has 3,000 songs to her credit.

"I started playing guitar and writing songs when I was about 7 years old, and I write something almost every day," she says. "Things just come to me -- funny things, sad things, depending on my mood. It's like my therapy, it's like my doctor."

Sometimes, music therapy isn't enough. Although there were good times, such as roles in movies like "Nine to Five," "Steel Magnolias" and "Rhinestone," good times are too often followed by bad times. In the mid-1980s, Dolly Parton had her share.

"I really had a down period for about 18 months, two years, until I finally was so depressed over my weight and a lot of other things until I just thought, 'You know, either get up off your fat ass and get on with your life or blow your head off and let everyone else go on with theirs,'" Parton says. "People don't realize that we, we meaning people in show business, have the same problems as everyone else. Money doesn't change that. Fame doesn't change that. Sometimes that brings on more problems. You know, it's just a different kind of problems.

"As they say, 'Money ain't everything.' It certainly, you know, helps. If you have money, you can buy certain things and you can, maybe, get out of certain things, but it don't make you happy unless you work at it."

While some heartache in life is unavoidable, Dolly Parton emerged remarkably unscathed -- given her profession.

Parton says she has never been into drugs or alcohol. And, she's been married for about 38 years.

Dolly met her husband, Carl Dean, a construction worker, outside the Wishy-Washy Laundromat the day she hit Nashville in 1964. They never had children, but they're all the company each other needs.

"He's proud of me," she says. "He doesn't care what I do, and he knows I'm always coming home. He knows I love him, and he loves me. But he's a loner. He don't want to be with anyone but me, so that works out just fine."

Besides her husband, the other solid rock in Dolly Parton's life is her personal relationship with God.

Parton says God is always with her.

"Remember that old scripture, 'Prayer without ceasing'?" she asks. "I just think that means to keep that inner glow, keep that feeling, that God light, inside you and hold onto that. It's, like, when people say, 'Oh, how can you talk about being religious, you look like a whore.' You know, maybe I do, but I don't feel like one. And I don't believe God thinks I'm one."

It's all part of the contradiction that is Dolly Parton -- the deeply spiritual country girl and the flashy showgirl, who besides her songs is best known for a certain prominent feature of her anatomy.

Parton admits to having some work done to her features.

"I've had lots of work done. I'll have some more done when I need it," she says. "I always said, 'If I see something sagging, bagging and dragging, I'm going to nip it, tuck it, and suck it.' Whatever needs to be done. I mean, it's like I look at myself like a show horse, or a show dog. I mean, I'm in the business. And, I like to look a certain way.

"I've always had nice boobs. I always had a nice body when I was little, but when I lost all that weight, I had them pumped up, and fixed up. They just stand up there like brave little soldiers now. They're real big, they're real expensive and they're really mine now."

Say what you will about Dolly Parton, love her or not, one thing's for sure. She's nobody's fool. And anyone who thinks she's going to go quietly out to pasture anytime soon, just doesn't know Parton.

"I think that I'm never going to retire," she says. "That's the kind of stuff I think because I love to work. I wake up with a new dream every day, and so, as long as I can, you know, dream and as long as I can afford to put them in motion, that's just what I'm going to do."
  • Rome Neal

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