Dolly Parton Reflects On When Porter Wagoner Sued Her for $1 Million: ‘That Was Money I Didn’t Have’

Dolly Parton‘s career really began when she joined Porter Wagoner on The Porter Wagoner Show. All of a sudden, she was making more money than she’d ever seen in her life and her music was being listened to by the biggest audience she’d ever had access to. Throughout their time together, Parton and Wagoner had a contentious relationship. There was an undeniable power struggle. And when Parton left, Wagoner was not happy. He sued her for $1 million.

A close-up, candid photo of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner in 1968.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dolly Parton says working with Porter Wagoner was ‘damn near like being married’

“People don’t realize that when you work with a band on the road you are bonded like a family,” she wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “And we were on the road so much.”

Parton says her relationship with Wagoner and his band was unquestionably familial.

“It’s just like when you’re with your own family,” she wrote. “When you’re with somebody all the time, you love them one day, and you want to kill them the next. Because they get on your last nerve, and I’m sure you get on theirs, too. But you do get to know exactly who they are.”

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Though Parton’s been married to a man named Carl Dean since she was 20 years old, she says working with Wagoner wasn’t unlike being married.

“Those seven years of being with Porter, it was damn near like being married to him,” she wrote. “In fact, you’re closer in some ways to your working partner than you are to your spouse. You’re working together and putting in your creative self, putting in every emotion that you have. It all goes into that relationship.”

Why Dolly Parton quit ‘The Porter Wagoner Show’

Parton writes in her book that she ultimately left The Porter Wagoner Show because she wanted to concentrate on being an individual artist. She didn’t want to be Wagoner’s “girl singer” forever.

“I just finally just thought I’m going to break myself if I don’t go, because all we were doing was fighting, and it just wasn’t working,” Parton said in an interview with Dolly Parton’s America. “I couldn’t think. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. He wasn’t happy either. I thought, ‘This is just insane. We’ve got to do something.’ That’s when I went in and said … I thought, ‘He’s not going to listen.’ We’d fought. I’d go home crying. That’s when I wrote ‘I Will Always Love You’ and went back to sing it.”

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The song was Parton’s resignation. Finally, Wagoner agreed to let her leave, as long as he could produce the record. She said he could.

‘You have to forgive and forget’

However, just when Parton was on her own, enjoying her freedom and her success, 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,” wrote Parton. “I had to pay that over a long period of time.”

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner during the 2003 BMI Country Music Awards at BMI Nashville
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner | Frank Mullen/WireImage

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But in true Parton fashion, the Queen of Country doesn’t harbor any bad feelings toward her old partner. In fact, she was with Wagoner when he died in 2007.

“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.”