Fans of Dolly Parton might think that they’re familiar with her morning routine. After all, she details one quite comprehensively in her 1980 hit “9 to 5.” But now the star has revealed her A.M. habits in full. And there’s much more to them than a “tumble outta bed” and a “stumble to the kitchen.”
It would probably be fair to say that Parton is one of the hardest-working stars in show business. Over the course of her impressive 50-year career, the singer has surpassed global record sales of 100 million. What’s more, she’s secured more than 110 charting singles, as well as a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Away from her successful music career, Parton has established herself as a savvy businesswoman too. Among the songwriter’s ventures is her 150-acre Dollywood theme park. The star has also ventured into acting over the years with stints in movies, on TV and on Broadway, and she’s a philanthropist to boot.
Given all her achievements, Parton is the proud owner of a number of accolades. Among her many gongs are eight Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. She also received the Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress in 2004 and was given the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the Country Music Association Awards in 2016. But how does she find the time to get everything done?
It seems that simple hard toil is the answer. Parton has attributed her unwavering work effort to her early years, particularly to her father. The singer was born in Locust Ridge, situated in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, on January 19, 1946. Her family was poor, but Parton’s dad ensured they didn’t go hungry.
At the time of Parton’s birth, her father, Lee, earned a living as a sharecropper. He would later acquire some land of his own, where he farmed livestock and tobacco. Even so, the family, which included 12 children, lived in poverty without the simple pleasures of plumbing, electricity or store-bought goods – all of which were in scarce supply.
Parton’s family lived modestly, with as many as 14 people sharing a one-bedroomed home. The lack of space meant there were often three or four children to a bed each night. And living in such close proximity came with further downsides which only compounded their hardships.
Recalling her difficult formative years, in 1978 Parton told Playboy magazine, “The kids peed on me every night. We slept three and four in the bed. I would wash every night. And as soon as I go to bed, the kids would wet on me and I’d have to get up in the morning and do the same thing.”
While such tales paint a grim picture of Parton’s childhood, her family also had good times in their tiny little cabin. The singer is known to look back on this period with her signature humor. In her 1994 memoir Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, she wrote, “I have often joked that we had ‘two rooms and a path, and running water, if you were willing to run to get it.’”
There’s little doubt that Parton’s formative years would go on to shape the rest of her life and her career. She has since recalled watching her father cut deals with horse traders and fellow farmers while always pushing for the best bargain he could get. And his business acumen certainly seems to have rubbed off on his daughter.
After discovering a passion for music from an early age, Parton left her family’s cabin at the age of 18 to pursue a career in Nashville. She had previously gained some exposure on local radio and TV shows in Knoxville. But her move to the big city gave her the break she needed, namely singing country songs on The Porter Wagoner Show.
During her time on The Porter Wagoner Show Parton’s voluptuous figure and warm personality captured the spotlight. But some believe that the focus on the singer’s attributes glossed over the talented songwriter and businesswoman that she was at heart. However, Parton’s intelligence would later come to the forefront.
From almost the beginning of her career, Parton ensured that she owned the publishing rights to her songs. According to Biography.com, Parton later said, “As soon as I could, I started my own publishing company, got my own record label. I think it’s important, if you can, to keep all of your goods close to home where you can control them and know what’s happening with them.”
Parton’s commitment to the ownership of her songs led to her declining an offer from Elvis Presley to sing one of them. In 1975 the King – who was by that point one of the biggest stars on the planet – wanted to record Parton’s ballad, “I Will Always Love You.” But in the end, the songwriter had to turn his offer down.
In a 2018 interview with U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail, Parton revealed what went down with Presley. She explained, “His manager Colonel Parker called me up the day before he was due to record the song and said, ‘Now you know Elvis has to have the publishing rights or at least half the publishing rights of any song he records.’”
Splitting the ownership of her song was something Parton simply couldn’t do, even if it was with Presley. She said, “I was desperate for Elvis to sing my song, and I’d told everyone he was going to sing it, but I couldn’t let that happen. It’s my song, my publishing rights. It broke my heart but I had to turn him down.”
Despite Parton’s heartache, the business decision served her well in the end. In 1992 Whitney Houston recorded “I Will Always Love You” as part of the soundtrack for the movie The Bodyguard. The cover became one of the best-selling singles ever and earned Parton approximately $10 million in royalties before the turn of the new millennium alone.
As of 2020, the Celebrity Net Worth website put Parton’s estimated wealth at $600 million dollars. But even with a fortune behind her, the songstress – now in her mid-70s shows no sign of slowing down. With that in mind, the country legend has revealed that she doesn’t plan on ever retiring.
In an interview from November 2020, Parton told the British newspaper The Sunday Times that she would continue working. The singer explained, “I don’t know why I’d ever want to stop. Especially after you get older, you need things to do. I’d rather wear out than rust out. You only have one life. No, I won’t retire.”
So with no plans to kick back any time soon, Parton just keeps grinding away. And as far as her daily routine goes, the singer-songwriter doesn’t even allow herself the odd lie-in in the mornings. Instead, she’s up before the birds, getting up at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m. so that she can get a head start on the day.
Parton revealed the details of her morning routine while talking to RuPaul for a piece for Marie Claire magazine. She explained, “I’m a very, very, very early riser. I go to bed pretty early, but I’m up and down. If I wake up and I’m pretty well awake, I think, I’ve got so much to do, I’ll get up and I’ll work a little while, write a little while, and I’ll lay [sic] back down.”
First and foremost after rising, Parton starts the day with a prayer. She told RuPaul, “I’m a very spiritual person. Every single day, before I do anything, I wake up and I thank God for the night and ask him to bless the day and to bring all the right things… all the wrong people out of my life, and bring all the right stuff in.”
Parton continued, “I always pray that he’ll let me uplift mankind and glorify Him. I have the little meditations I do, my little scriptures that I read, and all that. And that’s how I start my day. And I also can draw on that throughout the day. If things get chaotic and crazy around me, I can just go into that little spot of my own.”
After checking in with God, Parton’s day can get under way. She revealed, “I’m always, almost always up for good around 3 a.m. So I do some of my best spiritual work, some of my best writing and some of my business work – call-ins and letters that I’m writing or whatever – between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.”
Revealing the benefit of getting up so early, Parton explained, “I get more work done during that little period of time when the world is calm, energies are down, and I just feel like a farmer. I think God is a farmer. He’s getting out and he’s throwing down all these little nuggets of corn. Corn mostly, in my place.”
So for Parton, it was these quiet hours in the early morning, when most people are still sleeping, that she found the most inspiration. She pointed out, “They say the early bird gets the worm. Well, they also get a lot of good ideas too.” And luckily for her, she’s able to thrive off just a short amount of sleep.
Parton confirmed, “I don’t require a lot of sleep. Three to five hours I can work on. Five hours I like to get. But usually, I’m between three and five.” That being said, the singer will get her head down later in the day if needs be. She said, “Usually if I’m on the job, I’ll take a little power nap.”
On the day that Parton had spoken to Paul, she’d also cooked a typical Southern dish to enjoy with her spouse of 64 years: Carl Dean. She revealed, “This morning I made breakfast for my husband and me. I made some sausage patties, and I baked some biscuits, and I made some milk gravy.”
And when Parton was cooking breakfast for her husband, it’s unlikely that she was dressed in pajamas and slippers. That’s because she takes great pride in her appearance and looks nothing short of her best even in the early morning. And as far as her favored footwear goes, the star told Marie Claire, “I always wear my high heels.”
For Parton, fancy footwear is just another part of her identity. She explained, “I actually do wear high heels most of the time. They’re not always as high as the ones I wear for [the] show. But I’m little. I’m short. And I have to wear heels in order to reach my cabinets. But I always enjoy wearing the shoes too, and I just feel more like me.”
In a previous interview with The New York Times in 2019 Parton revealed she even slept in her makeup. This is so that she can avoid getting caught out looking anything less than completely glamorous. And while the likelihood of such a thing happening seems slim, the singer has her reasons.
While discussing her beauty routine, Parton told the newspaper, “I clean my face in the mornings. You never know if you’re going to wreck the bus; you never know if you’re going to be somewhere in a hotel, and there’s going to be a fire. So I leave my makeup on at night and clean my face in the morning.”
Parton reiterated the claims that she’s always presentable in her interview with Marie Claire. She explained, “I have to always stay ready – street-ready, I always say. I have to keep my makeup on and keep my hair done. Like, when I’m in L.A. – I’ve told you about it – if it’s going to earthquake, if we get an earthquake, I’m not running out in the street looking like you look now.”
Revealing just how seriously she takes maintaining her flawless appearance, Parton added, “I have to be ambulance-ready at all times if I get sick or something.” That being said, the singer said that she wasn’t trying to be something she’s not. She added, “I can come down, though. I’m comfortable in my own skin; I’m comfortable with my image. I dress for myself more than I do for somebody else.”
While Parton’s looks might be as iconic as her songs, there’s part of her image that her fans know little about. It’s been speculated that, among the modifications the superstar has made to her body over the years, are the addition of some tattoos. And while chatting to Marie Claire, she confirmed that she was no stranger to inkings.
When Parton was asked, “Are you really tatted up?” she responded to say, “The rumors are true… kind of.” She clarified, “I do have some tattoos that are small and tasteful, and I just got them to cover up some scars. Things like butterflies and bows in pretty pastels, but not all over like everyone likes to say.”
So while a lot of effort goes into maintaining her appearance, Parton still has time to release records and work on other projects. The singer also makes sure she gives back through her charitable endeavors. This includes, perhaps most notably, the work she does through her own program, the Imagination Library.
Parton set up the Imagination Library to encourage children to learn and fulfill their potential. She estimates that she’s given away something like 150 million books worldwide. Describing the project she said, “That is one of the things I am proudest of, of all the things that I’ve done since I’ve been in the business.”
So it seems, that even with her early mornings, Parton is still an unstoppable force. But with minimal sleep, where does she find her zest for life. Well, she told Paul, “I’m energized by just what I do. It’s like, work begets work, energy begets energy. I just really stay alive because I just live on creative and spiritual energy.”
Parton added, “I’m just recharged by the excitement of being able to still be active and to still be able to create stuff and to be still in demand. That’s exciting to me, that I have all these fans that care about me, and I love us sharing that kind of love and that kind of energy.” So who needs sleep anyway?