CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Dolly Parton
Aired July 3, 2003 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, country music legend Dolly Parton, a rare in-depth personal interview. We're going to talk about a lot of things. Dolly Parton for the hour is next on LARRY KING LIVE.
A treat in store tonight. We're on the eve of July 4, aren't we? And tomorrow Dolly will head an all-start lineup of people who perform at the Capitol Building in Washington. That's tomorrow, July 4, airing live on PBS beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. it's a great night. And, boy, have they got a great star to do it this year.
How did they get you to do this?
DOLLY PARTON, ENTERTAINER: Well, Walter Miller, the -- well, hi, first of all. How are you?
PARTON: Walter Miller, who produces the show every year, also produces the CMA Awards Show and many of the great shows and specials of mine, and he's been trying to get me here forever. And this year, he said, I'm going to kill you if you don't get here. And so, I said, I think it's time for me to come to the show. And it's a good time to do it, and we're really looking forward to it.
KING: You will enjoy it. I've seen many of them, and the performers get as big a kick as the people.
PARTON: That's what I understand, and I brought a couple of my nieces with me. It's the first time they've been in the area, so they're going to love all of the sightseeing they're getting to do and seeing the big fireworks and the show, too. So, we hope we're going to enjoy it.
KING: And it's one of the best fireworks shows in the country.
PARTON: That's what I've heard.
KING: Now, let's -- we're going to cover a lot of bases tonight. You're working on an eagle project with the National Zoo. What is that?
PARTON: Well, actually yesterday we donated two of our eagles from the Dollywood -- we have a sanctuary, where we take care of injured eagles, and after we hatch the little baby eagles, we put them back out into the wild. And for 13 years, I've been involved with taking care of the American eagle through our Dollywood Foundation. And so, we donated two eagles for the Smithsonian Zoo, and I came up to kind of make that presentation and be involved in that. So, that was one of the -- it's an all-American weekend for me.
KING: By the way, you know it's been nine years since you've been on this show.
PARTON: Well, that's just way too long.
How are you?
KING: It's your fault, too. Nine years.
PARTON: I know. I also love the tape you sent me the other day singing, "Hello, Dolly." You just went all out, and I thought, well, how can I not?
KING: That's a way to get a guest, I sang to you.
PARTON: You did. You sang, "Hello, Dolly." You're like Walter Miller. You said if you come to my town and don't be on this show, you've had it. So, I'm glad it worked out, though. I love being on your show.
KING: Now, what about this patriotic album coming?
PARTON: Well, thank you for asking about that. I'm doing an album right now. It's called, "For God and Country." And it's got a lot of spiritual and gospel things in addition to a lot of Americana things that people are very familiar already. And I've written a lot of new things for it, too. And I'm going to probably put together a tour and probably take it on the road next year and do a lot of shows for family and friends. I think it will be a fun show to do. It's a big production show with videos and lights and sound, and it will be the first time I've been back on the road big time for a long time.
So, I'm looking forward to doing it. It just seemed to be the right time, because there are several things going on. There's a lot of good stuff going, and I thought, well, I don't really need a new album, but this is the time for me to do my Americana thing.
KING: We're going to talk about a lot of things tonight, Dolly.
But would you say this is a good time in your life?
PARTON: Well, this is a great time in my life. I've been around a long time, and it makes me feel good that the public has accepted me and allowed me to stay active in the business, because I do love this. I'm a showgirl, as you can tell. I'm ever ready. I'm an all-American girl that knows what is, and... KING: Well, I'd say.
PARTON: So, anyhow, I just love being involved in everything, and it's -- this is a great time in my life. I'm in good health. I have good friends, a good family. I love what I do. And I hope to be around a long time. I never expect to retire.
KING: Is the love life OK?
PARTON: Well, my love life is still my husband. We celebrated our 37th anniversary.
KING: Boy, you keep on keeping on, don't you?
PARTON: Yes, I'm still a flirt and a tease, but I only have one husband. It's my first marriage and his, and we've been together almost 40 years as far as when we met. But we've been at it for a spell now.
KING: He puts up with you.
PARTON: Well, he does, but I put with him, too.
KING: Now, Sugar Hill Records is working on something that I think every performer would pray for, a tribute album to you. This is other singers singing songs you made famous.
How does that make you fee?
PARTON: Well, it's actually not songs I just made famous. It's songs that I have written, because a lot of people I guess don't realize that I write a lot of my songs. But a lot of these -- I had nothing to do with this album. It's a great honor and a great compliment. Steve Buckingham executive produced the album.
But a lot of these girls had heard that -- you know, had thought that someone ought to do a tribute album, which makes me feel honored but old. But a lot of these great girls just started calling and saying, well, I want to do this song, I want to do that. If this really happens, I want to do that.
So, Shania Twain did the "Coat of Many Colors" and Norah Jones did the "Grass is Blue." We had Sinead O'Connor did "Dagger Through the Heart." "9 to 5," Allison Kraus did. And Melissa Etheridge did "I will Always Love You." Well, there's about 14 great, great stars that did this album, and they just picked different songs and did them their own way.
PARTON: And it's coming out in October, and I was just very honored.
PARTON: They're hopefully going to do a special, and maybe I'll get to be on that.
KING: Yes, it can't miss. By the way, you mentioned "9 to 5."
Do you run into the girls?
PARTON: Well, just as a matter of fact, I was going to tell you that I went down to Atlanta last -- well, actually about three weeks ago now. Jane Fonda had her big charity that she works down there with adolescent pregnant girls, and she's had a charity going, GCAP (ph), for about eight years now. And so, she asked if we could all get together and do this with her. So, the whole cast of "9 to 5," Dabney Coleman, Lilly Tomlin and myself and Jane, were all there, and we raised a whole bunch of money for her charity. And I told her that I was coming to D.C. and that I possibly was going to do your show, and she and Lilly sent their love to you.
KING: Why -- that movie was so fantastic.
Why wasn't there more?
PARTON: Well, at that time -- you know, when you do something that great, it's really hard to try to go back and top it. And I've kind of always had a philosophy that I don't chew my tobacco but once. And so, like, once you've tried to make something greater out of something that was great enough, it just -- you know, it just never happens.
But I will tell you that in the limousine the other night when we were riding to one of the functions in Atlanta, Jane was talking about that people were talking about still trying to put together something as if it was many years down the road.
PARTON: I said, 'We'd better get to that now before it becomes the good, bad and the ugly instead of 9 to 5 II.
KING: Yes, from "9 to 5" -- 9 to 5 in a nursing home.
KING: So, it still might happen.
PARTON: Well, I don't know if it will, but they were talking about it. I'd be willing to try it.
KING: How is Dollywood doing?
PARTON: Dollywood is great. We have been open -- this is our 18th season. We just opened our new KidsFest, our first annual KidsFest, which we'll have every year. We have our great Festival of Nations.
And we do a lot of work also through the Dollywood Foundation with their Imagination Library, where we are very active with helping the children. We give a book a month from the time a child is born in Sevier County, which is my county, or that's how we started, until they start kindergarten, so they can learn to love books. And this kind of caught on, and now it's all over the country, and it's just growing with leaps and bounds.
So, we do a lot of good work there, not just with the eagles but with the children and the education and the health care as well.
KING: We all know, Dolly, how very poor you were as a kid. Right? I mean...
PARTON: Well, yes, we were poor, but a lot of people were in those parts.
KING: I know. But now you have them. You run a $100 million empire.
Do you often, frankly, pinch yourself?
PARTON: Well, I am very thankful, I'm very grateful, and I always say that because of the way I was brought up and my beliefs and principles and values hopefully that I count my blessings more than I count my money. I just feel like if I'm doing what I am happy doing and doing things to share and to help everybody else, I, of course, will make tons of money. And as I've always joked, it cost a lot to look this cheap, and I need the money.
But it ain't just about the money. I really love the work. I love the creative end of it. I love seeing and making and helping things happen. And it really is a great thing. I know that I'm very fortunate, but I don't take a bit of that for granted.
KING: She's the undisputed queen of country music, the writer of over 3,000 songs that have sold over 100 million records, and tomorrow she heads an all-star lineup of people who perform at the Capitol Building in Washington. You can see it on PBS at 8:00 Eastern. It's a grand, old July 4.
Back with more of Dolly Parton right after this.
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DABNEY COLMAN, ACTOR: All right now wait. Lets just sit down.
PARTON: Look I got a gun out there in my purse. And up to now I have been forgiving and forget because of the way I was brought up, but I'll tell you one thing if you ever say another word about be more ever make another indecent proposal, I am going to get that gun and I am going to change you from a roster to hen with one shot. Don't think I can't do it.
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KING: We're back with Dolly Parton. It's the eve of July 4, and she headlines the all-star lineup of people who are going to perform right at the Capitol Building. They do it right in front of the Capitol Building, and then they have this tremendous fireworks show right down from the Washington Memorial. It's right over the area in that beautiful lake between the Washington Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. And you're going to have a great time performing, and you're going to have a great time -- the public is going to have a great time seeing you.
Let's go back a little. We want to do kind of a profile of Dolly tonight.
KING: Your break occurred where? How did you get to be you?
PARTON: Well, I've been actually singing since I was a little kid. I started singing on radio and television when I was about 10 years old back in Knoxville, Tennessee, on "The Cass Walker Show." And I would make trips back and forth to Nashville with my Uncle Bill Owens, who helped me a great deal in those early days and took me around and showed me off and kind of exposed me to the people in the industry.
And so, from there, after I graduated in 1964 when I was 18, I moved to Nashville permanently, and I just walked the streets and knocking on the doors, trying to get things going. And it just kind of grew from there.
But the first big break happened in 1966, when I went to work with "The Porter Wagoner Show," which was the most -- it was the biggest syndicated show out of Nashville at that time.
PARTON: And so, that's where the big break came. And then five or six years after I had worked with him, I went out on my own and...
KING: And he wasn't happy with that, right?
PARTON: Well, I mean, why should he be? I mean, I had started working with his show, and it was his show, but I had told him right up front that I would stay for a while. Five years was my top, because I had come to Nashville to be a solo artist. I didn't want to just be somebody's girl singer forever. But we had a lot of success as a duet team, and so that was part of it.
And it took a big part out of his show, and I don't blame him. You know, we had our problems with that. But eventually, he totally came to terms with that -- well, several years later. But it's not that he didn't understand. It was just a big thing. It was going to change his whole world, too. But I will always be thankful and grateful to him for all that.
KING: So, you did straighten it out, though.
PARTON: Well, yes. In fact, I just -- well, we've been friends for years since then. At that time, though, it's like any of those messy split-ups. It's like a marriage of some sort. You are kind of...
KING: And you...
KING: Yes, I know. You're kind of hanging, and it ain't easy.
PARTON: No, it ain't, and you try to do what's right. But, you know, well, that happened. But several years later, you know, we patched all of that up, and I just helped induct Porter into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Just a few weeks ago, I went down, and we sang some things together, which was good. And we've done some stage shows and things together, special event things since that time.
KING: Now, you wrote a song about him, right? "I Will Always Love You."
PARTON: Yes, that...
KING: That was dedicated to Porter, was it not?
PARTON: Yes, it was actually more than just dedicated. It was during the time when I was trying to leave the show, and Porter was having such a hard time with it. And he was causing himself a hard time and me. But I knew I had to go, and there was no way that I could discuss it with him and tell him all of my reasons and had that understood. So, it came to me just to write what my feelings were in the song, so it was really more -- it was a very complex song. And this whole thing just kind of covered every part of our relationship, and it was really like if I should stay, I'd only be in the way, and I'm going. So, you know, I have to get out of here, and I hope life treats you kind, and, you know, I hope you have all you've ever dreamed of. And I'll always love you.
So, it was out of that, that that song came to be, and it's one of the biggest songs in the history of love songs.
KING: Yes, and your biggest song ever.
Did you know that Whitney Houston was going to use it for "The Bodyguard?"
PARTON: No. Actually, I had heard a rumor that the song she had planned to use had been used by someone else, and they had to pull that song, and that someone else had recommended my song. And I thought, oh, that would be great. And it was months, and I hadn't heard anymore about it, hadn't even thought that much about it. And one day I was riding along in the car and had just turned the radio on, and I heard her start that Acapella, like "If I should stay." And it took me like a few seconds, and I thought, what is that? That's so familiar. And then when she went into, you know, like the "I will always love you," I just about had a heart attack and died. I just about wrecked. It was a great feeling, though. What a great record she did on that.
KING: Does writing songs come easy to you?
PARTON: Yes. It's all I do. I write something every day, when I put on my makeup, when I'm cooking. I just -- things just come to me in rhymes, all my feelings and thoughts, and it's something I love to do. It's a hobby. And it's a business, too, but I just love to write.
KING: Are you good at predicting what will do well?
PARTON: No, I wouldn't know a hit if it jumped up and bit me in the butt. But you just write what you like, and you -- because some of my favorite songs are songs that are just in albums that never have been hits. You have your own favorites. I think every songwriter does. But, no, I wouldn't know what to tell you what would be a hit.
KING: What example -- what song surprised you that you didn't think one way or the other and it became a hit?
PARTON: Well, nobody ever knows. Like what -- like an "I Will Always Love You." I wrote the song straight from the bottom of my heart. You hope that songs like that are hits. "Jolene," songs like that, you write them and you don't know. You have no way of knowing. And then there are songs that you love that you think could be hits, like a favorite song of mine from an album is a song called "Down From Dover." And it's like -- it's a song that people have heard if they're big fans. But, you know, I just like some songs, and I think, man, I would have thought would have been a hit, and nobody cares.
KING: Are you a writer who sings, or a singer who writes?
PARTON: I'm a writer who sings. In fact, I think if I had to give up every part, if God forbid that should happen, hopefully it won't, but if somebody said you can only do one part of your whole career in the music business, what will it be? I would say I'll choose to write.
KING: We'll be back with more of Dolly Parton. Tomorrow at 8:00 on PBS, you can see her. If you're Washington, get over there. She's going to head the all-star lineup who will perform at the Capitol Building on July 4. Don't go away.
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KING: She headlines the July 4 entertainment in the nation's capital, and what a perfect choice, because she is an American, Dolly Parton, the undisputed queen of American country music, which is the most popular form in this nation.
A lot of other bases to cover, music and politics.
What did you make of the whole Dixie Chicks controversy?
PARTON: Oh, I felt so bad about that. It's like everybody was so afraid to even touch that or say anything because they're afraid they're going to, you know, wind up in a worse mess. But I have to say that in defense of them, they are great girls, they are great artists, and I'm sure they never meant the harm that has come from all of this. And I just really -- I know it was -- Natalie is kind of like me. She opens her mouth sometimes before her brain kicks in. My husband calls me "catfish." He says I'm all mouth and no brains. I think once in a while, you know, that will happen.
But I really think it's time to be Americans and kind of forgive them, because that's the American way to do. And let's just move on from that, because I just really think that was just more of a mistake, and I feel like they feel worse about it than anybody...
KING: Kind of a Christian thing to do.
PARTON: ... and she's so bold as to say so.
KING: Have they rebounded, by the way?
Are they back in the swing?
PARTON: I do not know. I just know what I see on TV, too. I just know every time I hear it, I think, oh, you know, that's terrible. And like I say, it is better to choose what you say than to say what you choose. But I hope that they do well, and I understand. I think people just thought that they weren't supporting our troops, and I don't think that's true, because one of their biggest songs is a song that was out during that time about the soldiers coming home.
PARTON: And I know that that was not where their heart was. Like I say, I think Natalie is just like me. She just sometimes blurts things out before she thinks, and I think we should try to forgive it and go on.
KING: Why, Dolly, have you been so open to discuss your cosmetic procedures? PARTON: Well, because people like you ask me, and I don't want to lie about it.
KING: Well, some people could say it's none of your business, and...
PARTON: Well, yes. But I don't want to lie about it, so I've got to -- I think sometimes it might help. You know, it's not like -- I mean, I look so totally artificial, you know, but I hopefully am totally real. But if somebody wants to know something...
KING: All right.
PARTON: I would say if I -- you know, if I see something sagging, dragging or bagging, I'm going to go have the stuff tucked or plucked.
KING: Have you had a face lift?
PARTON: Yes. I've had different things done. I've had like...
PARTON: Yes, I've had my eyes done.
PARTON: My lips, I've used collagen. I line my lips with collagen. I've used the botox. I've used...
PARTON: Yes, in different places.
KING: Excess skin removal?
PARTON: Yes, I've had all of that done.
KING: But doesn't it -- don't you ever get scared of it?
PARTON: Well, I had all of that done a long time ago. I haven't -- a big part of the stuff you mentioned, though, was when I had lost a lot of weight. But, no, it don't scare me, as long as you've got the nerve, you've got the money and you've got the pride. I look at myself like a show dog. I've got keep her clipped and trimmed and in good shape.
KING: A British newspaper reporter who met you wrote: "The breasts looked as if they are full of air."
PARTON: They are!
KING: "Rather than plastic or jelly, they seemed to hover between us, generating a force field of their own."
PARTON: Well, that's a good explanation. I am so tiny that my boobs just look so much bigger than they are. They're actually just about 39 inches around. But they do like I pump them up with a bicycle pump. But I like them. Like I say, I don't know -- I mean, they have served me well. I don't know if I'm supporting them or they're supporting me, but it's working, and I'm happy with it. So, as long as I'm happy, I can make everybody else happy. And I don't care.
KING: People don't know how tall -- how tall are you?
PARTON: I'm only like 5-1, 5-2 if I'm standing up straight on a good day. But I wear my five-inch heels, and I'm a tiny little person with tiny little bones and these big old boobs hanging on there.
KING: When you go in for procedures, botox, whatever, face lift, you go in, aren't you a little afraid of how it's going to come out?
PARTON: Yes, you are. But I always have the best -- I try to pick the best doctor, and I don't do it that often. I just -- I actually do it in little bits and pieces, because I don't want to do a whole big drastic thing. I've never had, like, just the whole big thing done, because I don't want to look like, you know, tighter than a banjo head. You know, it's like I want it to look as natural, you know...
KING: Yes, and you look fantastic.
PARTON: Well, thank you.
KING: I know you were once quoted as saying that, I'm going to always look like a cheap whore as long as there are doctors and plastic surgeons in the world." You do not look like a cheap whore.
PARTON: Well, I mean, just the way I look, because I always say, you know, I patterned my look after the town tramp when I was a little girl. I mean, I thought she was beautiful. So, that's really like my look comes from a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) place. It's a country girl's idea of what glamour is. And I've been with it so long, it's like painting with paints and crayons for me.
KING: You are a...
PARTON: And I just...
KING: You're a piece of work, Dolly.
PARTON: Yes, I guess so. I don't know if that's good or bad.
KING: No, that's a good thing.
What do you make of Britney Spears?
PARTON: Oh, I think those girls are great. If I looked like that, I wouldn't need to do all of this stuff. But they're great singers, they make great records. They fill a spot for what they do, and I have to admire any of the things that, you know, people are doing that's their creative expression. I don't have anything to say about other people's art and their work. And she's a beautiful girl.
KING: And you like it when others record your songs, and if they make it a hit rather than you that's OK?
PARTON: Yes, it's great!
KING: Because you're first a writer.
PARTON: Yes, I'm first a writer, and they make me more money. It's just like when Whitney did "I Will Always Love You," lord, I mean, that thing generated so much music. And somebody -- there was a tabloid story saying that Whitney and I were in a big feud, she said it was her song and I said it was mine. None of that was ever true. I was so flattered, so honored and so lucky that she did it, because the song didn't sound like that when I had it. You know, it's kind of like you should have heard it when I had it by myself. But she did great, and everybody has their own interpretation of a song.
PARTON: And that is what's great about this new tribute album. The album is called "Just Because I'm a Woman," a tribute album. And I was amazed after I did hear all of the cuts from it of how different everybody heard the song and how they took it and make it their own. But that's the thing about songs. You can just make them your own.
KING: Right, the way you interpret it.
How do you explain your following in the gay community?
I guess like it was Bette Midler for a long time, but the gay community seems very taken with you.
How do you explain that?
PARTON: Well, they want my dress and my earrings. They want my hair and my makeup. Actually, I think that the gay crowd is drawn to me because they love my honesty, hopefully my outgoingness. I think they appreciate the fact that it's OK to be who you are even some say you are a freak. I think they appreciate that, and they like the music, too. But I think they do like all of the glitter and the shine. And like I said, if I had -- you know, it's just a good thing I was born a woman or I'd have most definitely been a drag queen.
KING: Why do you think the tabloids love you?
PARTON: Well, because I'm a cartoon. I'm...
KING: Yes, but, I mean, you're happily married, you've been happily married all these years. There is no sex scandal involving you.
PARTON: Oh, they have me having a sex scandal all the time, which I don't mind. I'd rather people think I was... KING: Yes, but if you did, you'd tell us.
PARTON: Well, I probably would, and I might not either unless you caught me at it. But it's like -- I think that I'm just one of those white trash, hillbilly, you know, women that just -- you know, just like I'm a country girl that's made good. I think that I'm perfect. And every time they have me on the cover of a tabloid, it really sells hot. Why? I don't know. But I can -- I kind of...
KING: So, you don't mind.
PARTON: No! It keeps me hot. I don't care what they say, because you don't ever know if it's the truth or a lie in the tabloids. So, I don't deny or admit I did anything.
KING: Just spell the name right.
KING: Our guest is Dolly Parton. Tomorrow, she is going to wow them at the Capitol of the United States when she heads an all-star lineup who will perform the July 4 get-together in the nation's capital.
Back with more of Dolly Parton right after this.
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KING: We're back with Dolly Parton. Again, you'll see her tomorrow night. PBS telecasts it every year. They do it at 8:00 Eastern. It's the July 4 get-together in Washington, D.C., probably the best one in the United States. And they do -- nobody does a show like they do in Washington, and Dolly heads up the all-star lineup. She'll perform tomorrow night, and she's going to get a kick out of it. They'll get a kick out of her, and she'll get a kick out of it.
You said you don't mind the tabloids. How about when it's kind of cruel, that you had a fling with a 15-year-old boy? Do you regard that as funny?
PARTON: No, I don't think it's funny, but they forgot to say that I was also 15 at the time.
PARTON: So that...
PARTON: That makes a difference. KING: Yes.
PARTON: But they say everything. I don't care. Like I say, I don't deny or admit anything. If I ain't done it, hell, I'm capable of it. So, it's like -- it's just one of those things. But I don't like it. I'll tell you when it does hurt me is when it drags other people in that I love and care about and it hurts them. That's when I want to sue them.
KING: How about your husband?
PARTON: Oh, he could care less. He...
KING: It says you're going to leave him because he wouldn't go on tour with you.
PARTON: He would -- I mean, my husband would never go on tour with me. We have belly laughs sometimes about stuff like that. He would never go on tour with me, nor would I ever want him to. We've been together all these years. Every now and then, he'll come out to a show. He's usually made his own way there, like the state fair or something he wants to go see the tractor pull or the fat hog show or something. But it's not like that at all with him.
PARTON: We get along great, and we've never even had a big argument, a big fight.
PARTON: We get a little pissy sometimes, you know, get miffed and say, oh, why won't you go to the barn?
KING: Dolly, did you want children?
PARTON: Well, I wanted children when we first met. All girls do. But that did not happen. And now, after we started working with all of the children at Dollywood and the Imagination Library, I thought, you know God knows what he's doing. I think he didn't mean for me to have children, so everybody's kids could be mine.
KING: Did you ever want to adopt?
PARTON: Well, we talked about that, too. But I would have wanted to have had my own kids, and the way I work, it wouldn't have been fair to the kid. I don't even know that I'd had been a good parent, because I've got my mind so somewhere else.
But I love kids. I have my little nieces and nephews I'm very close to, and all of my brothers and sisters. My husband and I had to raise five of my younger brothers and sisters. They lived with us. We sent them to school.
And then when they got married and started having children, they thought, well, "What are our children going to call you and Carl? You know, you're like our mom and dad." I said, 'Well, we will be like their grandparents.' I said, 'They can call me Aunt Granny, and they can call Carl Uncle Pepaw." So that's what all of my nieces and nephews call me, Aunt Granny and Uncle Pepaw.
KING: So, that story in the "Globe," "Dolly's forbidden fling," an affair with a 15-year-old is when you were 15...
PARTON: Oh, I was...
KING: ... and he was 15.
PARTON: No, this is a story that's totally, totally distorted. These are people I know. These people have a hard time financially. They've pulled this several times before. And it's not worth getting into, but it...
PARTON: Yes, it's not...
KING: I won't...
PARTON: It's the kind of thing I don't want to embarrass them, nor do I want to embarrass myself.
PARTON: But it's a big crock of poo-poo.
KING: Last year, a front-page story in the "Knoxville News Sentinel" -- that's not a tabloid -- that reported that Dolly and some of her siblings were fighting other family members for control of their mother's affairs. What was the outcome?
PARTON: Well, actually that was also distorted. It's true my father died of a stroke suddenly. He had a stroke and he died two weeks later. My mother had some Alzheimer's, and...
PARTON: And so, at that time, her doctors had said she was not capable of running the estate. So, you know, we had to get involved in that and only because we had to go through lawyers and work through the courthouse on trying to get some of the paperwork done. That got totally distorted, and...
KING: How is she doing, your mom?
PARTON: She's not doing great. She just got out of the hospital just a few days ago, but she's doing better now. She's coming along. But she misses my dad a lot. And so, we take good care of her.
But anytime you're from that big of a family, poor people, and my dad, you know, he had some property and stuff there, but they made it sound like he was rolling in money and he was a millionaire. But it's the same thing with all families. KING: Yes.
PARTON: You just get into those messes with, you know, you have...
PARTON: ... to take care of it. You don't expect somebody to die. Daddy had always taken care of his own business stuff.
KING: How do you deal with the Alzheimer's?
PARTON: Well, she is not to that degree at this time. She actually -- on some days she does better than others. But she's a smart woman. She's a clever little woman, and sometimes you don't even really know what's there, but then some days you do.
PARTON: So, she is not in the real bad stages. She actually has some other health problems right now is why she was in the hospital. So, she had a mild stroke herself, and so...
KING: But she's doing better.
PARTON: She's doing better. She is -- mom is 81 now, and so she is actually...
KING: I know...
PARTON: ... doing great considering.
KING: Some of your siblings are in the music business. Is that hard when one of them, you, is so famous?
PARTON: Well, I don't know. It's got its good and bad points, I think. All of my brothers and sisters are very talented. They all sang all right. And my brother, Randy, who is fantastic, has his own show at Dollywood. And, of course, my sister, Rachel, is one of the great singer/writers and, you know, was in the "9 to 5" television show with, you know, the girls that Jane had put together years ago, the different ones. And so -- and my brother, Floyd, wrote the song of the year, "Rockin' Years," that I recorded with Ricky Van Shelton.
So, we're all in it. And my sister, Stella, has been at it for many years. And I don't really know how they feel. I'd like to think they're proud of me, which I think they are. But sometimes I feel like it might hinder them more than it helps them. But what can I say? I mean, we're all in it. I can't keep somebody from being a star and I can't make somebody a star and nobody can.
KING: Well, have you become like the matriarch?
PARTON: Well, I do my best to try to help keep things going, and they all do come to me for, you know, whatever. And if you're the one -- when people have problems and you're the one with the bigger part of the money, if they need me I'm glad to know they can turn to me. But they love me as a sister, and I would like to think they love and respect me in all the right ways, too.
KING: Dolly, why is country music, in your opinion, so popular?
PARTON: Well, I think country music is popular because I think people want to hang on to the realness of times. I know it's just like when the cowboy movies went out of style, people want to be part of the earth, the land and just home, God and country. And in a simple way, you want to be part of the dirt, the trees and the land. And I think country music is just simple stories, ordinary stories about ordinary people often told in an extraordinary way. But you still get that, you know, feeling of things are real, things are still around.
And we live in such a high-tech world these days. Everything is so big and so technical that I think people, especially now, are more drawn to the mountain music, the more traditional and the blue grass music. And I've gone back in the last four or five years to doing more of the blue grass and the mountain traditional music, and it's been very successful, like with the soundtrack of "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" And I think it's just the realism of it.
KING: And country stars get close to their fans, right? They're not removed. They don't live in palaces high up on a hill.
PARTON: Well, some of them do, and some of them don't. But I do believe that people do feel like they can be closer to the country artists than they can be...
PARTON: ... the rock stars and all. And they are, because most of the country artists are like simple people, country people. Even if they're from the city they have a genuine -- they've studied the music or they've wanted to be like some of their old heroes. And it's always a nice compliment when some of the younger girls that come into the business who say that I have been an inspiration. Like I say, it makes you feel old when somebody says, oh, I've loved you since I was little. You were my grandma's favorite.
But anyhow, it makes you feel proud, though, you know, for people to say that. And I think that even the country artists that are not, like I say, born and raised with hard times, like me and a lot of the older ones were.
PARTON: I think they feel that, and they want to be a part of it.
KING: They remember their roots, yes.
KING: We'll get a break and come back. Two more segments to go with Dolly Parton. You're going to see it tomorrow night. She's going to wow them, July 4 in the nation's capital. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE BETS LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS")
PARTON: Don't you threaten me. I'm telling the truth and you know it and all of your big dreams are going to the legislature. That's all they are. They're just dreams, because you ain't never going to be no more than you are right now, a chicken (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sheriff in a chicken (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
UNIDENTIIFIED MALE: You may be right. It's a hell of a lot better than being a whore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Don't forget, Dolly Parton tomorrow night, July 4, in Washington. She's going to headline the big show.
Mr. Blackwell -- I just saw him the other night -- the critic of the way people dress called you in 1978 -- that was many years ago -- the worst dressed woman of the year, saying there's too many yards of Dolly poured into too few inches of fabric. You laugh at that, right?
PARTON: Well, I do, and I told him, I said, 'I'm glad you came out of your closet long enough to look in mine.' And he didn't think that was too funny. But I don't care. I know I'm not a fashion statement. I mean, lord have mercy, I wouldn't even begin to tax my brain trying to think I had to stay in style. I have no style. But I have my own way I like to dress. I'm still wearing clothes I wore 20 years ago mixed and matched with something that's up-to-date.
So, there's no pressure on me. I can look any way I please. That's one good thing about being a cartoon.
KING: Any truth to the rumor that you're going to portray Mae West in a TV movie?
PARTON: Well, there certainly is. In fact, we've been working on that for several years now. It's an ABC "Movie of the Week." We have a script in now that they're very happy with, but they haven't decided when it's going to be. We had thought we were going to do it this year, but I just found out that they're not planning to do it until sometime next year. But if it does come out to be, then I definitely am going to play that. They had come to me...
KING: You're perfect.
PARTON: I would like to think so.
KING: You're perfect.
PARTON: Well, I feel like I can relate to her, and I will not be using, of course, this country accent. It will be the first time I would be willing to go outside of myself to do something like that. But I think I can do it. KING: Dolly Parton has won Grammys, Country Music Association's awards. She's been nominated for an Oscar, an Emmy, a handful of Golden Globes.
Are you a religious person?
PARTON: Very spiritual. I wouldn't say that I'm religious. I grew up in a very religious background. But I trust God for everything. I don't do a thing without praying. I trust God, I love God, and I love the thoughts of it. Even if there was no God, I'd prefer to believe it, because I prefer to believe in something greater than we are. It takes all of the pressure off of you. You don't have a bunch of ego problems.
But I do believe in God, and I really gain strength from that in everything I do.
KING: Do you ever record religious-type music?
PARTON: That's one of the things that's been so great about doing this album that I told you about earlier the, "For God and Country." I recorded...
KING: That's more patriotic, isn't it? Or is it...
PARTON: Well, it's both. That's what I'm saying. It's called "For God and Country." But in that album, I have done some great songs, like "Peace in the Valley," "Whispering Hope," and I've written some gospel things as well. But I have -- I only had one gospel album that was a commercial album years ago. I do have some things I recorded at Dollywood, and we sell strictly through there that's gospel. But I did an album many, many, many years ago called "Golden Streets of Glory," where I recorded songs like "How Great Thou Art," "Where No One Stands Alone," those kinds of things.
But nothing is greater to me, nothing is more fun and more fulfilling to sign than those great gospel tunes, and I love that because my grandpa was a preacher. He was a Pentecostal preacher.
PARTON: And I grew up singing in church. That's where I learned to sing. So, we were a high-spirited church, so I really, you know, love that background.
KING: Dolly Parton has had 24 No. 1 country singles, 70 top 40 pop hits. "Billboard" magazine ranks her -- get this -- "Billboard" magazine -- as the No. 1 female artist ever.
KING: When you crossed over into pop in the '70s, do you think you alienated some of your country fans?
PARTON: I did for a few minutes. I know that there were several of those really die-hard country fans that was afraid, I think, that I was going to get gone, or that they didn't want to follow me over to those places. So -- but I had to try to reassure them, because your true fans, you know, they're important to you, and I didn't want to offend anybody. I was just trying to make a bigger move, because I wanted this to be -- I thought of this as the music business. You know, I was interested in the business end.
But it's like I said then when I was getting the criticism about selling out and moving out, I said, 'I am not leaving country music. I'm planning to take it with me wherever I go,' which is what I have done. And I'd like to think of myself as a goodwill ambassador of country music worldwide, and I guess you can tell I ain't lost much of my accent nor my country ways nor my country singing. But I do love the fact that I can do so many things. I love that I can be in the movies, I love that I can sing, you know, rock music, pop music. I intend to do a children's show and several children's albums as the years go by.
So, I'm not done yet, but it's -- you know, it's like I felt like I needed to venture out, because my personality wanted all of that.
KING: Has the youth culture invaded country music? Do country stars over 40,45 have a tough time getting play?
PARTON: Yes, they do. As a matter of fact, that's one of the reasons that I started recording my blue grass and traditional music again, because I couldn't get played on the radio. And I was lucky that I had, you know, my music, and they would, of course, play a standard song once an hour, you know, "Legends" and all of that. But I look at myself as an active participant in the business. I'm really -- you know, I'm not going to go down with a sinking ship. I'm going to find me a dingy. I just thought I'm going to just jump in, and I'm just going to do everything I can.
But when country music, when the newer -- new country they were calling it, when they were coming along, it was impossible. Not even 45, it was more like 40. If you were over 40 you couldn't get on.
PARTON: And I was just slightly over 40. And so, but I thought, well, I'm not giving up, so I'm going to always do my music, even if I have to sell it out of the trunk of my car. And I love the music.
KING: We're going to take a break and come back with our remaining moments with Dolly Parton, and we're going to ask her what she's going to sing tomorrow night, July 4, in Washington. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Dolly Parton.
What are you going to sing tomorrow night?
PARTON: Well, I'm doing three songs. I'll probably do about 12 minutes with the talk and the songs. I'm doing a song called "Light of a Clear, Blue Morning" and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," which are two of the songs that will be in the "God and Country" patriotic album.
And the other one, I'm going to open with "9 to 5," because people like to hear me sing stuff that they know and that they can sing along with. So, that's what I'm doing.
By the way, I wanted to tell you, I'm doing a duet with Kenny Rogers. We're doing that next week when I get home, and we're going to put out a duet as a single.
PARTON: Well, it's going to be...
KING: Are you going to record it?
PARTON: Yes, we're going to record it. It's a song I wrote called "Undercover," and we haven't recorded together in a long time, so we're going to get in the studio and...
KING: How does the song go?
PARTON: Oh, we are undercover lovers -- anyway, it's really about just two people. It's kind of...
KING: We are undercover lovers?
PARTON: Yes, it's like...
KING: That's a great double -- triple entendre.
PARTON: Yes, but it's really about two people, you know, that when they get together they solve all of the day's problems. It's like it starts out, oh, sweet, darling, kick your shoes off, drop your clothes and get in bed. That's just for starters. But it's not a dirty song. It's about two people that love each other.
KING: But where does it go from there?
PARTON: Well, it goes to like get in here and like, you know, take these -- you know, get the demons out of my head and make everything right when the world has gone to pieces. You know, it's like get in here and love it all the way.
KING: Since I sang for you, will you do an "I Will Always Love You" one line from that?
PARTON (singing): And I will always love you, I will always love you, Larry King. KING: When you write -- thank you. When you write, do you just take pencil and paper? I mean, you'll be riding in a car and write something down?
PARTON: Yes, I keep a tape recorder by my bed, pencil and paper, by the bathtub, everywhere I'm at, on the airplane, on the bus. I've always got pencil and paper nearby.
KING: Do you read music?
PARTON: Not a word of it. I don't even know -- I make up my melodies and I make up the words, but I...
KING: Then someone has to write it down, right?
PARTON: Yes. And then they have to play it back on a piano.
KING: That's Irving Berlin. Irving Berlin couldn't read a note.
PARTON: I don't know a note, and, you know, but I know as soon as they play it back, I say, OK, you've got to play it, and let me make sure...
KING: So, you hum it here in your head and then hum it for the person who writes down the chords and the musical chart?
PARTON: Well, I play all of my -- you know, I play the instruments. I just sing them and put them down. And then when they have to do the copyrights, someone has to write out the music. But in order to make sure that it's right, I have to hear them play it back, and say, no, that's not right, that's not right.
KING: Were you taught to play?
PARTON: No. Well, I mean, with my family. See, music is a big part of my family, so I would just get -- I would just make everybody that came by the house that had a guitar or whatever show me a different chord. I just learned to play by ear I guess you'd call it. It's just a natural thing with us. And I play the banjo a little bit. I play the autoharp. I play piano enough to write. I just pick it up and I wouldn't know one note from another.
KING: Do you still get as big a kick out of going on a stage to a crowd of people, a concert or a tour, as you did 20 years ago?
PARTON: Even more now, because all of the fear is off and all of the fear I'm not going to make it or am I going to make it. But, you know, I absolutely just love it, and knowing that they love me back makes it twice as good, and I try my best to bust my butt to please them. And I think by now I kind of know what they expect or want from me.
And so, I try to make it a lovefest when I go out there, and I have a good time, because I'm not afraid or shy to say whatever. Like I say, it's sort of like me and Natalie, we just talk sometimes too soon. But I just love to get out there and... KING: Do you ever have an off-night?
PARTON: Oh, yes. At times when you don't feel good or like sometimes like if mamma is sick or something or, you know, you have your mind somewhere. But not totally off, because I try to keep myself focused. I know that the show must go on, as they say. But there are times when maybe it don't show to the audience...
KING: A couple of other things.
PARTON: ... but I feel it.
KING: Do you like doing duets?
PARTON: Yes, I do. I've loved all of the people that I've worked with. I've sung with Vince Gill, and me and Kenny had a great thing going. That's why we're excited. If we have a hit on this "Undercover," you know, undercover angels hover as we cuddle here in bed, that's one of the lines from it. But if we do have success with that, I hope to do some more duets with some different artists.
KING: Let me tell you, Dolly, that sounds like it's going to be a big hit.
KING: I have that feeling.
PARTON: It feels good. It's a fun song. It's sort of like that "Afternoon Delight" song.
PARTON: It's kind of an uptempo, and it's just cute risque. It's not dirty.
KING: Dolly, go get them tomorrow.
PARTON: I'm going to. I'm looking forward to it.
KING: And thanks (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
PARTON: And I love working with you again. Let's hope it ain't another nine years.
KING: You're not kidding.
Dolly Parton, the undisputed queen of country music heads an all- star lineup of people who will perform at the Capitol Building in Washington tomorrow night, July 4. It airs live on PBS at 8:00 Eastern.
Thank you for joining us. Have a great holiday tomorrow, and I'll come back and tell you about tomorrow night's LARRY KING LIVE right after this.
KING: Thanks for joining us on this holiday eve edition of LARRY KING LIVE with Dolly Parton. Tomorrow night we've got a wonderful show for you, a tribute to the late George Burns. Please tune in for that, a tribute to George Burns tomorrow night. Dolly Parton tonight. Have a great and safe July 4.
"NEWSNIGHT" is next. Thanks for joining us. Good night.
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