Why Dolly Parton Never Wants to Think of Herself As a Star

Dolly Parton is a household name — thanks in part to her 50 Grammy nominations, 10 wins, and recent releases of an album, a memoir, and a Netflix musical. Fifty years after Parton first broke onto the Nashville music scene, she’s still making headlines and hits. Despite all of these well-earned accolades, Parton insists that she doesn’t see herself as a star. 

Dolly Parton’s rise to the top

Parton’s longstanding love of country music started early. Although she was born into a large farming family, she never faded into the background and began performing on local Tennessee radio stations at a young age. According to Britannica, she took off to begin her Nashville music career as soon as she graduated high school. 

Porter Wagoner, a big name at the Grand Ole Opry, quickly took Parton under his wing. Her performances and appearances on his show allowed her to gain widespread recognition. As she began her solo career, she was already established and respected. Her hits like “Jolene” and “9 to 5” helped to skyrocket her sales and burst from the shadow of her mentors. Parton was a top-tier talent, all on her own. 

Biography places the peak of Parton’s career around the 1980s. This is undoubtedly the era in which she proved herself to be a true renaissance woman. Though she had already helped to define a new genre of pop country music, she wasn’t ready to slow down. Over the decades, Parton has written books, been featured in biopics, and even opened her own theme park, Dollywood. 

Her rejection of the “star” title

In this screengrab released on December 10, Dolly Parton performs during the Billboard Women In Music 2020 event on December 10, 2020. | 2020 Billboard Women In Music/Getty Images for Billboard

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In spite of all her accomplishments — and the fact that Parton has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — she insists that the term “star” has never resonated with her. While Parton bestowed the title of “superstar” onto her goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, she rejects it for herself.  

In an interview with Billboard, Parton shared that, despite her irrefutable success, she still feels like the same working girl she was back in Locust Ridge, Tennessee. She went on to say, “As somebody once said, ‘A star is nothing but a big ball of gas’ — and I don’t want to be that.” 

So, while Parton is intimately familiar with being at the top, she prefers to stay grounded. She acknowledges that many of her fans were drawn to her because she had grown up in a large, poor family. Although her talent may be otherworldly, Parton never wants to alienate any of her supporters. 

How Dolly Parton still shines

Rejecting stardom, Parton is inevitably rooted to Earth — and she’s determined to make a difference. She has long been praised for her advocacy and charitable work, drawing from her own impoverished childhood to inspire change.

In 1995, Parton founded the Imagination Library. This organization sought to bring a love of reading to young children, a passion project of Parton’s that stemmed from her father’s illiteracy and her hometown’s lack of library resources. According to Vulture, Imagination Library delivered its 100 millionth book in 2018. 

The arrival of the novel coronavirus brought a new opportunity for Parton to use her platform for good. Back in April, Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center to help fund its virus-fighting research. All these months later, Moderna has released one of the most effectively vaccines, with Dolly Parton listed as a main financial contributor

Not only is this great news for the world, but the virus also got personal for Parton in December. She lost a dear friend, Charley Pride, to the disease and tweeted, “What a horrible, horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you.” 

From music to medicine, Parton’s legacy spans decades and genres — and it’s far from over.