Why Dolly Parton Used to Think Her Career Would End After 5 Years

In 1978, Dolly Parton was just starting to really go places in her career. In an interview with Playboy Magazine that year, she said she’d heard most famous people have about five years in the spotlight, and she felt she was in her first year of that. Little did she know, she’d have one of the most successful life-long careers any musician has ever boasted.

Dolly Parton playing guitar in New York in 1977.
Dolly Parton, 1977 | Michael Putland/Getty Images

Dolly Parton thought she had five good years in the spotlight

Looking back at Parton’s extensive career, in 1978, she was only just getting started. But the “Jolene” singer had heard people in show business say that a musician’s time in the limelight is typically very limited.

“Most people say in this business the life span of a career is five years from the time you really get hot to the time you start getting colder, like an Elton John,” she told the magazine, as recorded by the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “Maybe I shouldn’t call names. That’s just what I heard, that you don’t expect to really be the hottest except for maybe five years, and with a TV show, it’s usually a three-to-five-year thing, and then you cool off, people have seen what you do. I think maybe I am right now starting in my first year of from one to five. That’s what I’d like to think.”

‘I could just about do anything’

Parton knew she wanted to be a famous musician ever since she was a young girl growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee. Plenty of people told her not to get her hopes up when it came to pursuing a life as a musician. But she believed in herself more than anyone else.

“I’ve got more confidence than I do talent, I think,” she said. “I think confidence is the main achiever of success, I really do. Just believin’ you can do it. You can imagine it to the point where it can become reality.”

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Though Parton had heard that her career could very well be over in a mere five years, she felt the sky was the limit in terms of what she could accomplish during that time.

“I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do,” she said. “Under the right conditions, I could just about do anything. Even a Broadway play, if it was a mountain musical where I didn’t have to be a Streisand-type singer or have a beautiful trained voice. If it was somethin’ written just for me, I think I could do anything. Most people don’t have that kind of confidence in themselves.”

Of course, Parton went on to write the Broadway show, 9 to 5: The Musical. And she’s currently writing another musical about her life. Additionally, at the time of the interview, Parton had never acted before. Today, her film resume is nothing to scoff at.

Dolly Parton will never retire

Though Parton is 75 years old, she doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. The pandemic permitting, she plans on touring worldwide this year in celebration of her 75th birthday, as a part of “Dolly Fest.”

“Expect ‘Dolly Fest’ to go global in 15 stadiums, which we have on hold right now,” United Talent Agency’s Neil Warnock told Music Week. “And it will be very Dolly.”

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Will Parton ever hang up her rhinestone cowgirl boots and enjoy a well-earned retirement?

“As long as I feel good,” she told USA Today when asked how long she’ll perform for. “I had a little problem [in 2015] … got stumped up with kidney stones, but it didn’t slow me down. I was even working on the phone every day getting that TV movie together, even when I was in the hospital for a week or so. I’m amazed, at this point, of all the interest in my life. I’m never going to retire. I just want to do greater work. As mom would say, I’m letting the spirit lead me.”