Dolly Parton Learned Country Star Merle Haggard Was ‘in Love With [Her]’ From His Wife: ‘I’m Sorry If It Caused Any Problem’

Through the years, Dolly Parton has been asked time and time again if she’s ever had an affair. (She’s been married to the same man, Carl Dean, since she was 20 years old.) While she typically doesn’t “admit or deny anything,” Parton did go on the record and say she never had an affair with country artist Merle Haggard.

Roy Clark, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, and Porter Wagoner are shown here at the Country Music Association annual awards show.
Roy Clark, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, and Porter Wagoner | Bettmann, Getty Images

Dolly Parton’s relationship with Merle Haggard

Parton and Haggard got to know each other on the road.

“Merle Haggard was a special, special person,” Parton wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “I heard he had a crush on me. All I knew was that we had a great relationship. When I was on the road with Porter’s show, we traveled some together. Merle would ride on my bus sometimes, and we’d play card games together. We just had a really good time.”

Though they spent a good amount of time together, Parton says she “honestly never thought about him romantically.”

“We never had an affair or anything like that,” she wrote. “We were just buddies, as far as I was concerned. He reminded me of my brother Denver, so I really related to him. We had a good time, and we loved each other’s music.”

‘Always Wanting You’

Haggard even wrote a song about Parton called “Always Wanting You.” Despite the name and content of the song, Parton simply thought of it as a friendly gesture.

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“He sang it to me,” she wrote. “I took it as a great compliment, just as a fellow songwriter would. I didn’t connect it to anything any bigger. I didn’t know it was that big of a deal.”

But, as Parton put together later, the song meant a lot to Haggard.

Merle Haggard’s wife approached Dolly Parton at an event and told her Haggard loved her

Parton learned of Haggard’s true feelings from his wife.

“Later, at a BMI banquet, Merle’s wife, Bonnie, said to me, ‘Well, you know Merle’s in love with you,'” she wrote. “And I said, ‘Well, I love him, too.’ She said, ‘I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about real love.’ I said, ‘Well, I can’t help what he feels. I love him to death, but there’s nothing going on between us, and there never was.’ I’m honored and flattered that he had a crush. But I’m sorry if it caused any problem.”

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Despite what transpired (or, rather, didn’t) between them, Parton has a great deal of respect for Haggard (who died on April 6, 2016) as an artist.

“I thought then, and I still think, that he is one of the greatest songwriters and one of the greatest singers, ever,” she wrote. “He recorded a song of mine called, ‘Kentucky Gambler’ and had a No. 1 hit with it. It was a big, big record. I was very honored that he would even want to record that. It was another of my story songs, and he did a great job of it.”