Dolly Parton’s Struggle to Say No Led to an 18-Month Illness

In 2021, Dolly Parton celebrated 57 years since she moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music. In that time, she’s risen to unprecedented professional success. Her drive lies in her love of what she does. Sometimes, though, she struggled to say “no” in business relationships. She realized this after it caused an 18-month bout of illness.

A black and white photo of Dolly Parton in a patterned shirt. She holds a guitar.
Dolly Parton | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dolly Parton is notoriously hardworking

As a child growing up in the Smoky Mountains, Parton always wanted to pursue a career in music. She began writing songs as a child and would perform them on her porch and in church. The day after she graduated from high school in 1964, Parton moved to Nashville to pursue music. She soon signed a record deal and started on the path to becoming one of country music’s biggest icons. 

Parton doesn’t focus solely on music, though. She’s acted in films like Steel Magnolias and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, funded vaccine research, and created her Imagination Library foundation.

The dissolution of a ‘personal business affair’ made her sick

Parton’s performance in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas earned her a Golden Globe nomination, but she said the process of filming was not fun. She explained that at the time, she was unwell.

“I’d never really been sick in my life until a couple of years ago, and then I was sick for 18 months to two years,” she told Interview Magazine. “It was brought on by a lot of emotional problems that I was having.”

She went on to explain that certain necessary business decisions were difficult for her because she’s sensitive. She had to end a relationship with one person in particular, and she found it exceedingly difficult.

“It was just very painful,” she said. “I have a tendency to be awfully big-hearted and it’s very hard for me to say no, even when I need to. I can handle the business — the bigger they are the better I like dealing with them — but when it gets into business where I’m very attached to the people, it’s hard.”

The drawn-out problems resulted in a lengthy illness.

“I was going through a period of time that the nerves and the tension and the stress were actually what got me sick,” Parton explained. “So then it was like, which came first, the chicken or the egg? I just kept getting worse and worse and then I started having stomach problems, ulcers and intestinal problems.”

Looking back, though, Parton believes that her illness was a valuable learning experience.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It made me really smart. When I was flat on my back I realized that I could never retire, that I hated it, that I would never get myself in that place again.”

Dolly Parton’s husband is the only person who could make her retire

After this incident made her realize her dedication to her craft and boosted her business savvy, Parton has been unstoppable. She explained that only her husband’s health could make her retire.

“I don’t know why I’d ever want to stop,” she told The Times. “Especially after you get older, you need things to do. I’d rather wear out than rust out. You only have one life. No, I won’t retire. I might pull back if my husband’s not well or if I’m physically not well. But I’d never do it for any other reason.”

RELATED: Dolly Parton Once Admitted She Never Feels ‘Good Enough’