Dolly Parton Forgave Porter Wagoner Just Before He Died: ‘I Wanted Him to Be Free’

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner worked together for seven years. Throughout that time, they had a complicated relationship. And things only grew more complicated after Parton decided to leave The Porter Wagoner Show. Her old co-star sued her for $1 million. Back then, that was money she didn’t have. However, many, many years later, Parton and Wagoner reconciled. The Queen of Country was by Wagoner’s side just before he died, and she forgave him.

Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton at the Academy Of Country Music Honors - Special Awards Presentation And Reception, June 20, 2007
Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton | Tony R. Phipps/WireImage

‘The Porter Wagoner Show’

Parton became Wagoner’s “new girl singer” on The Porter Wagoner Show after Norma Jean Beasley left. A sort of power struggle emerged between Parton and Wagoner the longer the Queen of Country was on the show. She never intended to be a duet singer for long. She’d always wanted her own band; her own following. But Wagoner felt a sense of ownership over her.

“He would say, ‘This is my damn show,’” Parton said in an interview on Dolly Parton’s America. “I’d say, ‘I know, but this is my damn life, and we’re not talking about the show, I’m talking about my life. I’m talking about my future. I can’t stay here as the girl singer forever. I want an individual career. I am my own self. I didn’t come to Nashville to be just part of a duet and to be a girl singer in somebody’s group. I want my own band. I want my own show. I want my own dreams.’

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“It was like, ‘I made you.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’ve made me mad again. You’ve made me a lot of things. I’m not taking anything from you,’ I would say, ‘I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I never promised you forever.’ We just were not happy.”

Finally, the fighting got to be too much for Parton. She tried to leave multiple times but Wagoner wouldn’t listen. Exasperated, she went home and wrote “I Will Always Love You.” When Parton returned, she sang it to Wagoner as he sat at his desk. He began to cry. He told her she could go as long as he could produce the record. She agreed.

Porter Wagoner sued Dolly Parton for $1 million

Just when Parton was finally on her own and starting to evolve her individual career, Wagoner sued her for breach of contract.

“After I left and started doing well, Porter sued me for $1 million, and that was money that I didn’t have,” Parton wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “I had to pay that over a long period of time.”

But in true Parton fashion, the Queen of Country doesn’t harbor any bad feelings toward Wagoner.

“You have to forgive and forget,” she wrote. “He gave me great opportunities, and I did appreciate him. Later on, we got back together and he said he was sorry about all of that. So I forgave him, and I asked him to forgive me. I’m sure I was a pain in the a*s to him. I was, because I believed in what I believed in, and I was going to fight for it. There’s truth on either side.”

Dolly Parton saw Porter Wagoner ‘just a few hours’ before he died

Parton got the chance to make sure everything was right between her and Wagoner just before he died in 2007.

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“I was with Porter when he was dying,” she wrote. “I forgave him, and I thanked him for all of the opportunities he gave me. I wanted him to know exactly how I felt. I told him everything was fine and asked him that if there was anything he needed to forgive me for, please do. I wanted him to be free of anything that he might have been worrying about.”

Parton writes that her former partner was in hospice at the time and not “coherent.”

“But I squeezed his hand, and he made a move to say he understood,” she wrote. He died just a few hours after we visited.”