Dolly Parton is one of the most successful women in history. She has sold over 100 million records, released 42 Top 10 country albums, and opened the profitable theme park Dollywood. At age 70, she will release her 43rd album, Pure and Simple, on Friday. She has also embarked on her 12th headlining tour to support the album—her biggest tour in 25 years.
Parton's shows are packed with baby boomers and millennials alike; her universal appeal stems from her combination of excess glamor and powerful songwriting. While her work resonates with a broad audience, her talent also spans genres and mediums. She's written such iconic numbers as "Jolene" and "I Will Always Love You," and starred in cult classic films like 9 to 5 and Rhinestone.
Decades ago, Parton's brassiness may have irked conservatives, but today she's universally beloved. We sat down with Parton to get her life advice on natural beauty, staying true to yourself, and rhinestones.
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Broadly: What's your advice to gay young men and women?
Dolly Parton: Well, I just think it doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter if you're straight or gay, transgender, black, white, brown, yellow, red, or alien grey. The same good advice my mom gave me: "To thine own self be true." You should just be proud of who you are, and anything else is just a big farce. If you try to be something you're not, you're not gonna be happy. I think everybody should be allowed to live their life their own way.
I think everybody should be allowed to live their life their own way.
What should young people wear: rhinestones or sequins?
Well, there's not much difference to me. I think you should wear the combination of rhinestones and sequins.
To paraphrase your line from Steel Magnolias, is there such a thing as natural beauty?
People have asked me about that quote from Steel Magnolias, "Is there such thing as natural beauty?" And yes, there is. Certainly not for me, but there's a lot of beautiful people that are absolutely beautiful with makeup, without, and they're just born beautiful. How many of us are there out there? Certainly not in my case. I have to work at it. I overdo it sometimes, but I wasn't born a natural beauty, so I have to have all the help I can get.
Who are your fashion inspirations?
I'm not sure I have fashion inspirations because I don't think I have fashion. I really love to look at all the trends and all the beautiful super models and all their beautiful clothes. I could never be one of them. I've just always had my own taste in things. I wouldn't say it's classy, and I wouldn't say it's stylish, and I wouldn't say it's fashionable because I still wear some things that I wore since I was a teenager. I just wear what I wear and hope it works out.
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Your new album is called Pure and Simple. What does it mean to be pure and simple?
I was talking about a love that was pure, and simple, and comfortable, and easy—someone easy to be with, someone you can communicate with, and be in a comfort zone that makes life worthwhile. Love has so many things that are complicated. There's even that line about, "Oh the love's so complicated / broken hearts and twisted minds." But there's just something about love that's just so pure, and sweet, and good, that it's almost sacred and divine.
When did you write the songs for this album?
Most of them are new. I pulled a couple of songs, "Tomorrow's Forever" and "Say Forever You'll be Mine," I pulled from back in the 70s. They were songs I wrote about Carl and us when we first were together, so I thought they would fit well. They were always two of my favorites. I didn't have time to do an album. I wasn't planning to do an album, but I thought, well, we need one. So I just got up—I'm an early riser—in the wee hours and wrote these songs. They felt really natural, and really pure, and really simple.
I'm not sure I have fashion inspirations because I don't think I have fashion.
What is the difference between touring in 1970 and 2016?
Ha! The difference in touring now [and] back in the early days when I first started and touring is I don't have to do it now. I don't have to do it for money. I don't have to keep up the busses, and the band, and the uniforms, and the expenses. Although I always did it because I wanted to, it was a strain for me a lot of times just barely breaking even. Now I have other things that I can do, and I do other things, but the music has always been my top priority. It's great now—it's so organized and well done. I can live on my bus. It's like a paid vacation. Other people take care of all the things that I used to have to be responsible for myself, so I have good management [and] good publicity people that make sure that things are run well. Seriously, it takes a lot of people to put a great show together, and I have the best people in the business.
You have starred in so many cult classics. What are your favorite memories from 9 to 5, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Rhinestone with Sylvester Stallone?
I have starred in a lot of things that people call classics, and I've loved every one of them. 9 to 5, I love because it's like a first love.I had never even seen a movie made at that time, and then everything about it just fell so perfectly in place. It was a hit, so why wouldn't that be like a first love, one to always remember?
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas I love because I got to wear all those fancy, fancy outfits and be kind of gaudy and bawdy at the same time. I loved that for all those reasons and working with Burt [Reynolds] was fun. He was really hot at the time, so we both had a lot of fans [and] we both made a lot of memories.
Working on Rhinestone with Sylvester Stallone is one of my favorite things I've ever done. It was the least successful of all the big movies, but it was so much fun because I had been out of work with some health problems and things at that time for about 16 to 18 months. I'd been going through a lot, not feeling good and just depression and all, but he was so funny and so healthy that it was just great for me. That was just a really good time for me to do that movie. It was just like a good medicine, so I don't care that it wasn't such a big hit. It was a big hit for me personally.
One of my very favorite movies I've ever done is Steel Magnolias with all those great gals, and I loved The Joyful Noise with Queen Latifah. Course I got a chance to do Straight Talk with James Wood. I've just had a whole lot of wonderful memories, and I have special memories of every one of 'em for all different reasons.
What's the biggest misunderstanding about you?
I don't even know what that would be. I don't know.
Finish this sentence: Dolly Parton is...
Dolly Parton is Dolly Parton. Dolly Parton is over the top in every way.