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EXCLUSIVE: Dolly Parton is still beyond compare

As Dolly Parton brings 9 to 5 The Musical to Australia, she talks to The Weekly about love, ambition and not having children.
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There’s a fantastic opening two lines to 9 to 5, the theme tune Dolly Parton wrote for the ground-breaking 1980 comic movie, which Dolly later transformed into a stage musical.

“Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen; Pour myself a cup of ambition.”

It’s genius!

Somehow, Dolly manages to bring a gritty positivity to the battle of sexes while also being ironic, all to a thigh slapping beat.

And as I talk to the global sensation that is Dolly Parton, I constantly catch sight of the razor-sharp mind and wry sense of humour cloaked in those famous perky southern vowels and big hair, that powers this country music icon.

“That’s one of those lines as a songwriter when you just think, thank you God,” Dolly explains.

“When I wrote that song, I was thinking about how you’re getting up and stumbling to the kitchen because that’s what you always do to pour a cup of coffee, and then all of a sudden that line just came to me. I got so excited.

“It’s all about your first cup trying to wake up whether it’s coffee or tea or cola, to get you started and motivated. And I said, ‘oh my God, a cup of ambition!'”

Dolly says that her own morning cup of ambition “involves a lot of stuff. I’m a very early riser and I’m a very spiritual minded person. I really like to start my day with my meditation and my prayers and my little ritual that I do to get myself anchored.

“So, I pour myself a cup of ambition in a lot of ways, through prayer and making little plans, communicating with God as I perceive him to be. I ask for guidance for the day, so my cup runneth over with a lot of good things and ambition is one of them.”

Dolly loves to adhere to a strict morning routine.

(Image: Getty)

That ambition – and significant talent – is what catapulted Dolly from poverty in the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee, the fourth of 12 children born to Avie Lee Owens and tobacco farmer Robert Lee Parton, onto the lucrative Nashville country music scene.

“We were very poor people but the thing is everybody in those parts was poor. It’s more a personality trait back then than it was anything with me,” explains Dolly.

“I was always a dreamer, talking about how I was going to be a star and sing on the Grand Ole Opry. The other kids just thought, that’s far-fetched – so I think it was more that people didn’t understand dreamers at the time. I’ve thought about that a lot.

“I was different in that I always thought that I was going to do something else and go somewhere else and be something else. I really wanted to do something more.”

Dolly is one of 12 children.

(Image: Getty)

Music was like breathing in the Parton house, but for Dolly it held a special fascination.

It was part of her heart and soul, a means to express herself and to tell the stories swirling round her head.

As the story goes she composed her very first song at five years old.

Tiny Tassel Top was all about the corn doll with corn silk hair that her momma made for her.

By age seven Dolly was playing the guitar and started to glimpse life beyond Locust Ridge.

“I always believed it early on because my Uncle Bill, one of my momma’s younger brothers, he played guitar and he took a real interest in me because he saw how serious I was and he dreamed of being in show business himself,” explains Dolly.

“So, we were partners in crime, so to speak. He would take me around to different places to sing and soon I was on a local radio show.

“I was about 10 years old when the crowd asked for an encore – I had to sing it over and over – and it was incredible. That’s when I thought, ‘oh, they like me, I’m going to be a star. This is what I’m going to do’.”

While her family lived in a one-room cabin, sharing beds and eking out a living, Dolly says she never felt poor.

“My mother always taught us that there was always somebody in worse shape than we were, no matter what we were going through, somebody had it harder, and somebody had less food than we did, somebody had less cover on their beds than we did.

“So she made us count blessings and realise that we were not poor. She always hated that word. She’d say, we’re not poor people, we’re rich in things that matter like – loving kindness, understanding and just togetherness.”

I ask Dolly if there was a secret to her parents’ marriage.

“Well, love,” she replies laughing.

“Mom and Daddy were really passionate. Even as they got older, they’d argue back and forth but it was still passionate. They were cute and stayed with that childhood sweetheart kind of power and that kind of love.

“Obviously having one kid after another, they never lost their sex drive nor their passion for one another! We’d see them sneaking off somewhere or walking down by the creek-side holding hands, Daddy with his arm around Mom’s waist, and we’d think ‘uh-oh, we’re going to have another baby before you know it’.

Dolly didn’t want to leave home, she loved her family, but felt compelled to grab on to her chance for a bigger life.

“I had a drive and an inner compass that was pulling me toward it. I knew I could always go back home if I didn’t make it. I always had that as a safety net. I prayed every day that God would bring all the right things and all the right people into my life.”

One of those people was her husband Carl Thomas Dean, whom she met on her first day in Nashville outside the Wishy Washy laundromat.

Carl has since said, “My first thought was I’m gonna marry that girl”, which is pretty much what happened.

“I left two boyfriends back in East Tennessee and I thought, the last thing I want is a boyfriend. I don’t want anything to slow me down. I was just going to get a grand start on my career before I got caught up with any boys again. But I met Carl the first day I got to Nashville and just fell head over heels in love with him,” says Dolly chuckling.

“We’ve been together 56 years in May, married 54 years and we dated for two years before that, so my goodness I think it was meant to be, I really do.”

WATCH BELOW: See Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus sing ‘Jolene’. Story continues after video.

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Coming from such a big family, having children was always something Dolly imagined she would do, but this was one thing not even Dolly could make happen.

“In the early days we thought we would have children. We didn’t do anything about having them or not having them and when my career started coming along pretty well I thought, well, I don’t need to have them right now so I took birth control pills.

I came off those because they were causing me problems but we never did get pregnant…Then I had some problems with my apparatus later on and life went on. I had to have surgery which meant I then couldn’t have kids.”

But in typical Dolly style there are no regrets.

The timely revival of 9 to 5 The Musical, which comes to Australia in July after a hit run in London, is the latest piece of Dolly genius.

“I think with the #MeToo movement last year and the year before the issues around women in the workplace have started up again and needed to be addressed,” she says.

Dolly Parton’s 9 TO 5 The Musical premieres at the Sydney Lyric Theatre from 19 April, followed by a season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne from 25 July. For tickets visit 9to5themusical.com.au

Read the full interview with Dolly Parton in the April issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, on sale now.

The April issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, on sale now.

(Image: AWW)

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