Johnny Carson Was Once Dolly Parton’s Muse and She Serenaded Him With the Song

Television icon Johnny Carson and country queen Dolly Parton had a funny friendship they shared with the world on The Tonight Show. After a couple of visits, she prepared a sweet song to thank Carson for being a friend to her.

According to Parton, being on his show did her country music career a world of good. And thinking about it inspired her songwriting craft. Keep reading to find out what she had to say in her song and how Carson responded.

Black and white photo of Dolly Parton seated next to Johnny Carson at 'The Tonight Show' desk in 1990
(L-R) Dolly Parton and Johnny Carson | Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Dolly Parton told Johnny Carson, ‘I’m here about as much as you are’

After Parton made her first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1977, she started visiting the host on the show pretty regularly.

“People think me and you are great friends and I feel like we are,” she told him in 1979. He agreed they were.

As Parton explained during that visit, things got “real good for her” after first appearing on The Tonight Show. She mentioned how Carson told her she wouldn’t come back to see him after she “got to be real famous.”

“But I always will,” she told him. “I’m here about as much as you are.”

She was joking about his use of guest hosts on The Tonight Show. Though some stars might not have been so bold as to jest with Carson about a sensitive subject, they were good friends, as Parton mentioned. Just in case there was any doubt, she gave him a sweet stroke on the cheek to reaffirm her affection for him.

The joke left Carson momentarily speechless, but he eventually replied, “Good friends can say that.”

Dolly Parton said through song she ‘never really made it till the Johnny Carson show’

Before Parton began her song for Carson in their 1979 interview, she warned him it wasn’t supposed to be “too serious.”

“I think other people do a good job but I really only like to watch when you’re on,” she explained to him before singing. “And I don’t call it The Tonight Show. To me, it’s ‘the Johnny Carson show.'”

Then, she sang the first lines: “I have come a long way from the hills of Tennessee / And I’ve worked hard to make the folks back home real proud of me / Now everybody knows my name no matter where I go / But I never really made it ’till the Johnny Carson show.”

And while she wrote lines about wearing “$13 wigs” and upgrading from “K-Mart to Gucci,” the overarching idea in the song was Carson helped her out by bringing her on his show.

For his part, he seemed genuinely flattered by the sentiment as he watched on adoringly and even let out an “aw” or two. Once her song was finished, the sometimes bawdy friends shared a sweet kiss on the cheek.

Dolly Parton has a thing for late-night hosts

Of course, Carson wasn’t the only late-night talent Parton has gotten close with in her decades as a superstar. In 2021, she told W magazine she had a crush on current Tonight Show host, Jimmy Fallon.

“I’ve always had good luck with late-night guys, you know? I always had a nice relationship with David Letterman and with Johnny Carson,” she explained (per Taste of Country.)

She added, “I guess there’s something about late-night people that kinda hits my fancy and I hit theirs, somehow. I guess it’s ’cause you feel like you can be more free late at night.”

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