Wed, Aug 24, 2011 - Page 14 News List

Home on the range with Dolly Parton

The country music star on high heels, ‘hillbilly ways’ and the truth about her marriage

By Hadley Freeman  /  The Observer, LONDON

One aspect of Parton’s life that has not been seen for some time is her husband. She has been married for 45 years, yet many of her fans have no idea what her husband looks like, or whether he actually exists. The few photos of him in the public domain show a handsome, rather shy-looking man.

“Carl’s never wanted to be in the limelight, so I didn’t put him there. He wants to be left alone and be a homebody and then hear about what I’ve been up to when I get back. He’s my anchor and I’m his excitement,” she says.

But Parton is a master of deflecting one-liners, slaking people’s curiosity by leaving them laughing. In her very funny 1994 autobiography, My Life and Other Unfinished Business, she recounts meeting Dean in Nashville at the beginning of her music career and proffers what is surely the 20th century’s version of “Reader, I married him” as she explains why she was so keen to marry Dean: “I was getting pretty horny.”

Dean’s absence from the public eye has led to suspicion among some of her fans that Parton’s real partner is her childhood friend and constant tour companion, Judy Ogle.

“Judy and I laugh and laugh when people say such things,” she says, not breaking eye contact for a second. “It keeps me humble, having someone around who I know loves me for who I am and not what I’ve done. Judy and I have known each other since we were itty-bitty girls and we’re like Siamese twins because we’ve grown together and if something happened to her, it would just kill me.” Her voice cracks ever so slightly at the end.

In this regard and many others Parton can be compared to Oprah Winfrey, another woman who worked her way out of a deprived childhood in America’s south to become a no-surname-necessary superstar, and whose close friendship with her female best friend has led to similar speculation, despite frequent denials.

“Oprah and I have talked about that a lot,” Parton agrees. “We share many very special bonds and we have often spoken about how people try to make out that she and Gayle [King] are gay and Judy and I are gay. But we understand that very few people are lucky enough to have a very best friend and keep that best friend all your life.”

And like Winfrey, Parton has built an empire out of seeming to wear “my heart and emotions on my sleeve,” while simultaneously being supremely professional and self-protective. But just occasionally, that mask slips. At the end of the interview I ask if she is spending the rest of the day doing interviews with other journalists. “Yes,” she replies and permits herself the tiniest of eye-rolls before she quickly stops herself and asks if I’d like her PR to take a photo of us together. Obviously, the answer is an enthusiastic yes. A diverting trick it may be, but that trick is irresistible. Her millions didn’t come from nothing.

Speaking of those millions, a huge part of Parton’s legend is her poverty-stricken backstory and she makes as many references to what she calls her “hillbilly ways” in conversation as she does in her songs. “I’m just a simple silly country girl!” she says more than once. It should perhaps be interjected here that this simple silly country girl owns 15 properties spread out between Tennessee and California. Her management takes great pains to tell me later that Parton prefers to travel by bus than plane when she tours, as though this proves her simplicity. But it transpires that shipping the Dolly buses to Australia for her upcoming tour will cost US$1 million each. As Parton has said of herself many times, it costs a lot to look that cheap.

This story has been viewed 5546 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top