Happy birthday to the one, the only, Dolly Parton. From being a country western icon to being the most likable person alive (don’t take our word for it. It’s science.), Dolly is just about the one thing a united American can agree on.
And not just because she’s one of the finest songwriters this country has ever produced (the woman wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” on the same day) but also because of the trail of good deeds she leaves behind her wherever she goes. It doesn’t seem super fair that one person should be born both a once-in-a-generation talent and the kindest heart in America, but those are the breaks. That’s to say nothing of her other creative efforts, which include a production credit on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And she has her own theme park, for crying out loud. So in honor of her big day, here are a few of Dolly Parton’s greatest moments in being a good person.
When a spate of wildfires took Parton’s native Tennessee by storm in 2016, she pledged a thousand dollars to families who lost their homes every month, saying she has “always believed that charity begins at home.” She also provided college scholarships to graduating seniors who lost their homes in the fire.
Back in the 1980s, Parton launched Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends enrolled children a new book every month from the time they’re born until they turn five years old. She did this as a way of honoring her late father Robert Lee Parton Sr., who never learned to read. “You know, in the Bible where it talks about honoring your father and your mother,” she said. “I don’t think that necessarily means just to obey them. I think it means to bring honor to their name.” In 2018, she was recognized for donating her 100 millionth book.
When the COVID-19 pandemic was at its worst and things in America were looking a little bleak, Dolly Parton got work. While chatting with her friend, Nashville doctor Naji Abumrad, she heard about a promising new vaccine initiative that was looking good but needed some money. She contributed a million dollars to the fund and, long story short, the Moderna vaccine is now keeping countless millions (including, full disclosure, the writer of this very article) safe from COVID-19, saving who knows how many lives.
Little known fact: Dollywood is also home to the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, a 30,000-square-foot aviary that acts as the country’s largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles. The eagles who call the sanctuary home are disabled and would not survive in the wild, but are kept healthy and well fed by the sanctuary’s staff of experts. And if you visit Dollywood between April and January, you’ll be able to see them for yourself.
In the 1980s, Parton began one of chief charitable goals of her life: boosting the graduation rate of her local community. One of her first efforts was to encourage seventh and eighth graders to “buddy up” with a fellow student, so they could mutually encourage each other through high school. As incentive, she promised them $500 each if they finished high school. It worked. The high school dropout rate plummeted from 35 percent to six percent in just one year.
Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You” in 1972 and it became a huge hit, but the late great Whitney Houston covered it in 1992 for The Bodyguard soundtrack, where it became another hit. Parton got a little chunk of royalties from Houston’s cover, and she chose to invest them into a predominantly Black neighborhood in Nashville. “It was mostly just Black families and people that lived around there,” Parton told Andy Cohen last year. “I just thought, ‘This was great. I’m going to be down here with her people, who are my people as well.’ And so I just love the fact that I spent that money on a complex. And I think, ‘This is the house that Whitney built.'”
Parton co-founded Sandollar Productions, which is the studio behind projects like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Father of the Bride movies and Fly Away Home. The Buffy movie was a flop, but executive producer Gail Berman thought the idea had promise as a television show (spoiler alert: she was right). But later over a lunch meeting, Berman confided in Parton that she wasn’t getting the same pay her male colleagues were for the same work. That simply did not sit well with the woman who wrote “9 to 5.” Parton wrote her a check on the spot.
It’s true. On the set of the Netflix holiday special “Christmas on the Square,” a 9-year-old actor named Talia Hill accidentally wandered into the path of danger. “We were on set, and I was at the hot chocolate station, and they said go back to your beginning positions,” Hill said on Inside Edition. “So there was a vehicle moving and I was walking, and then somebody grabbed me and pulled me back. I looked up and it was Dolly Parton.”
In 1990, Parton’s niece Hannah Dennison was admitted to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center with leukemia, where she thankfully made a full recovery. In honor of the staff’s hard work, Parton donated a million dollars to the hospital and funded the building of the Hannah Dennison Butterfly Garden in the hospital.
In 2000, Parton established the Dolly Parton Scholarship, which awards $15,000 to five graduating seniors every year in her native Sevier County in Tennessee. The scholarship is meant to encourage students who “have a dream they wish to pursue and who can successfully communicate their plan and commitment to realize their dreams.” She also works with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year to give a “teacher who has overcome obstacles in his/her life and is making a difference in the lives of children” a free week as her special guest at Dollywood.
So happy birthday, Dolly Parton. We’d say you should be put on a pedestal but, well, you wouldn’t want that.