Skip to main content

Dolly Parton is a sunny public figure whose warmth attracts fans from various musical genres and walks of life. Despite the happy glow she emits, Parton experiences negative emotions like anyone else. She spoke about working through this period and shared the two practices that she has found especially therapeutic.

A black and white photo of Dolly Parton smiling. She wears a silk scarf in her hair.
Dolly Parton | Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Dolly Parton went through a difficult period in the 1980s

During the 1980s, Parton had a close professional relationship with her bandleader Gregg Perry. While touring together, Parton shared that they began an “affair of the heart.”

“Gregg and I became very close … I had never spent so much time with such a well-educated and knowledgeable man…” she said in an interview with Ladies’ Home Journal, per the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “I let myself get completely wrapped up in him.”

Parton was devastated when Perry left her band. She had already been dealing with problems with her physical health, and her sadness worsened them. She explained that this was one of the lowest periods of her life.

“After I got through that, prayed through that, worked through that, I became so much better because I could see so much more inside people,” Parton told ABC News. “I was so much more humble because I never could toughen my heart … I just had to strengthen the muscles around it.”

She shared the ways she deals with challenging emotions

In the book Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, Parton shared that after Perry left, she “had to tear everything down, reshape myself, and get some priorities in order.” After doing so, she learned methods to help her work through any more rocky periods.

“Songwriting was my therapy, because I did not go to a therapist,” she wrote. “My music has always been my best doctor. My guitar and my words always get me through whatever slump I’m in. That’s what helped me get myself back together, get myself back in shape, and get myself out of that whole world of darkness.”

She shared that she also found that travel helps soothe her. She wrote the song “Heartbreak Express” about moving on.

“In addition to writing, traveling is great therapy. I’m sure my subconscious was making that feeling into a story and a song,” she said. “But it was really about just moving on, in general.”

Dolly Parton said she also feels that a ‘spiritual messenger’ helped her

Though Parton has found methods that help her navigate negative feelings, she said that her dog once helped her as well. She explained that she briefly contemplated suicide, even picking up a gun.

“I looked at it a long time. Then, just as I picked it up, just to hold it, and look at it for a moment, our little dog, Popeye, came running up the stairs,” Parton told Closer Weekly. “The tap-tap of his paws jolted me back to reality, I suddenly froze and I put the gun down.”


Dolly Parton Used to Get the ‘S— Beat Out’ of Her for Wearing Makeup

She believes that Popeye was a spiritual messenger who helped save her.

“I kinda believe Popeye was a spiritual messenger from God,” she said. “I don’t think I’d have done it, killed myself, but I can’t say for sure. Now that I’ve gone through that terrible moment, I can certainly understand the possibilities, even for someone solid like me, if the pain gets bad enough.”

How to get help: In the U.S. and Canada, text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 to reach a crisis counselor for support.