Dolly Parton—that sugary sweet, tremendously talented, and heavily tattooed angel who fell to earth (either heaven or the Smokey Mountains)—turns 70 years old today so let’s pump up our hair (because the higher the hair, the closer to God), push out our tits, break out our favorite Dolly albums, and celebrate! It’s time to toast one of the best singer/songwriters in the history of country music.
Parton, who recently documented her childhood in the less-than inspiring TV movie Coat of Many Colors, comes from humble origins. Raised in a one-room cabin in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, she grew up poor, but happy, and began—like many greats—singing for her church as a child.
“My coat of many colors that my momma made for me, made only from rags, but I wore it so proudly. Although we had no money, I was rich as I could be, in my coat of many colors my momma made for me,” warbles Parton in “Coat of Many Colors,” her 1971 hit that never fails to bring a tear to my eye.
At 18, Parton moved to Nashville where she began writing songs for country music heavyweights like Kitty Wells. In 1968, RCA released “The Last Thing On My Mind,” a duet (and cover of a Tom Paxton song) by Parton and Porter Wagoner. It was a huge hit on the country charts.
In 1971, she released “Joshua,” her first single to get to number one. Two years later, she’d put out “Jolene,” one of the most devastating ballads about heartbreak to ever be put to music:
It’s inspired several great covers (though none as good as the original), like this one by Miley Cyrus:
And this one by the White Stripes:
In 1974, Parton released “And I Will Always Love You,” a song that I—as a young dummy—didn’t even know was a Parton song until watching her serenade a fan with it on a nightly news show. Famously covered by Whitney Houston, the song was originally written for Porter Wagoner after they professionally parted ways. (You can watch a portion of the very funny Drunk History about their split here.)
Also an actress, Parton has starred in a number of classics like Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Steel Magnolias, and 9 to 5, a film she would also write the theme song for. (Parton also wrote the score for 9 to 5 Broadway musical.)
Parton has also successfully crossed over into pop, but at her heart, she always remains country. Here she is in 2008, singing “Little Sparrow,” a haunting song off of her excellent 2001 album of the same name:
At 70, Parton continues to perform. She’s widely known as one of the kindest people in show business, is a longtime gay rights advocate, has been married to the same non-famous dude (Carl Thomas Dean) since 1966, and has—without regret—never had kids.
God bless ya, Dolly, as you’ve continued to bless us.
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Image via Getty.