Dolly Parton Said Being a ‘Little Spastic Jerk’ Meant She Got a Whipping Every Day

Dolly Parton’s loud, ebullient personality is part of what has drawn fans to her for decades. Growing up, however, some of her personality traits got her into trouble. She explained that her behavior got her in trouble at home and especially at school. She dealt with frequent punishment, and Parton admits that she probably was a “pain in the butt.”

A black and white picture of a young Dolly Parton in a jumpsuit with a white knit blanket.
Dolly Parton | Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

When she was young, Dolly Parton knew she wanted to be a musician

Parton was one of 12 children who grew up in the family’s one-bedroom Smoky Mountain home. They spent a good deal of time in their grandfather’s church, where all the children honed their musical abilities. Parton took it a step further with her powerful desire to make something of her talent. 

From a young age, she would set up a tobacco stick and a tin can as a microphone. She’d perform impromptu porch concerts for her younger siblings and any ducks or chickens she could lure over with feed.

A black and white picture of Dolly Parton as a child. She wears a black and white striped shirt and sits against a black background.
Dolly Parton | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“I just pictured myself out there in the big world singing songs I’d written, performing to people and getting out of the mountains and just traveling around,” Parton shared on her official website.

She said she was a pain to deal with growing up

Though she had big dreams to chase, Parton was still a frustrating child to be around, especially for her younger siblings.

“Hyperactive children can get in a lot of trouble, they can be somewhat obnoxious but you don’t think about that as a child, you just think of your older sibling being a pain in the neck,” Parton’s sister Stella said in the book Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller.

Parton agreed that she always wanted attention growing up, but she adds that some of her “pain in the neck” behavior was involuntary.

“I guess I was a little spastic jerk. Probably a pain in the butt,” she said. “I was always in trouble; not meanin’ to be. I got a whippin’ every day I was in school ’cause I couldn’t sit still. I’d sit and not even knowin’, I’d be bangin’ my heels against the desk, makin’ noise or I’d get up to sharpen my pencil a thousand times. Didn’t know it. I was always in some kind of trouble. I was so fidgety, spastic is the word.”

Dolly Parton’s sister thinks singing is a perfect career for her

Given Parton’s propensity to seek attention wherever she could find it, Stella believes that singing is a good career for her sister. She explained that she watched an old home video where Parton did whatever she could to get the camera’s attention.

“She knocks a cigarette out of a guy’s mouth onstage, she butts in and gets in the camera when it’s not really about her; she was a needy child. I guess she needed attention so [singing] was the perfect career for her … on the home video, she’s like, ‘Where’s the camera? If it’s not on me I’ll make sure it is.’” 

Luckily, Parton’s personality has suited her music career well and has lifted her to unprecedented success.

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