Dolly Parton Made 1 Huge Change to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’

In case you didn’t know, Dolly Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You.” In fact, she wrote it the same night she wrote “Jolene” because she simply has the range. David Foster worked with Whitney Houston on creating the cover for The Bodyguard, per co-star Kevin Costner’s suggestion. But unbeknownst to them, the “I Will Always Love You” cover that inspired Costner’s idea was different from Parton’s original version. And that’s when the country icon stepped in.

A black and white close-up of Dolly Parton singing into a microphone.
Dolly Parton | Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Did Dolly Parton write ‘I Will Always Love You’ for Whitney Houston?

A common misconception about the iconic song is that Parton was only the songwriter. In actuality, Parton wrote the song about her own life when she was preparing to leave The Porter Wagoner Show. There was another artist interested in recording a cover of the song before Houston, however. Ever heard of a guy named Elvis Presley?

Parton was contacted by Colonel Tom Parker, Presley’s manager, asking if Elvis could record a cover of the song. But there was a catch: Parton would have had to sign away half of the publishing rights.

“Other people were saying, ‘You’re nuts. It’s Elvis Presley. I’d give him all of it!’” she said, according to Mental Floss. “But I said, ‘I can’t do that. Something in my heart says don’t do that.’ And I didn’t do it and they didn’t do it.”

Linda Ronstadt’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ left out some of Dolly Parton’s original lyrics

“I Will Always Love You” wasn’t the song Houston was originally going to sing for The Bodyguard. According to Foster, the initial idea was Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” But Foster said it just wasn’t working.

“I couldn’t make it fit for Whitney,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I tried two demos. I didn’t like it. She didn’t like it.”

Costner suggested the Parton song, and they used Linda Ronstadt’s cover as a reference from there on out.

“The minute I heard that song, I knew what to do with it and how to make it perfect for Whitney,” Foster said. But he soon learned from Parton herself that Ronstadt had changed the song in her cover.

“Dolly was like, ‘Wow. I can’t wait to hear the third verse,’ and I go, ‘What third verse? There’s no third verse,'” he told the outlet. But there was, indeed, a third verse.

Ronstadt’s version of the ballad omitted the lyrics, “I hope life treats you kind, and I hope you have all you dreamed of. And I wish you and happiness, but above all this, I wish you love.” They were added in immediately, and the most epic key change of all time was added right after.


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How much did Dolly Parton make from Whitney Houston?

Foster expressed his gratitude for Parton’s cooperation on the song.

“She’s had, of course, tremendous success and doesn’t need one more hit song,” he said. “But she was very grateful to that. She made jokes, ‘I bought my new house with that song.'”

Indeed, Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You” made Parton $10 million in royalties in the 1990s alone. Life most certainly did treat her kind in that regard.