Dolly Parton’s contributions to music are insurmountable, but her 50+ years of incredible country tunes are certainly not all she is known for. Between her Dollywood theme park, on-screen performances, and generous philanthropy, Parton is a beloved artist and cultural icon.
Videos by American Songwriter
All of her accomplishments add up financially as well. As of August 2021, Parton’s net worth sits at roughly $350 million according to Forbes. Other sources like Wealthy Gorilla believe her net worth has actually increased since then, putting it at about $600 million.
Parton attributes her financial success to a piece of advice from her mother: “Always keep something back for you.” At 76 years old with 10 Grammys, 17 Hall of Fame honors, and 26 No. 1 hits, this advice clearly worked well for her.
Coming Up Country
Parton is best known for her legendary music career. She has recorded 52 studio albums, and is widely regarded as the “Queen of Country.” Holding a record number of No. 1 hits for a female country artist and 41 Top Ten country albums, Parton’s music career has served her well.
Her debut album Hello, I’m Dolly was released on September 18, 1967. Three of the tracks were solely written by Parton, and she co-wrote the other seven with her uncle. Hello, I’m Dolly gave Parton her first two Top 40 hits, “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy.” The album peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, foreshadowing her future success on the charts.
Parton consistently released new albums every year— sometimes two or three a year— throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Her star continued to rise in the country music world, but in 1976, she began to transition into more mainstream pop.
After her first country/pop album New Harvest…First Gathering did not hit pop music charts, Parton made a shift in her public image. She made more television appearances with other major celebrities like Cher, Barbara Walters, and Carol Burnett. She worked with Gary Klein, a high-profile producer for her 1977 album, Here You Come Again.
Her strategy worked, and the album and singles both hit pop charts. The album also won Parton her first Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
Parton’s transition from country charts to pop charts allowed her career to skyrocket as she made a name for herself in Hollywood. While her music was more appealing to listeners across the board, she never truly left her country and bluegrass roots behind.
“9 to 5,” What a Way to Make a Movement
In 1980, Parton worked on one of the most successful and renowned projects of her career—9 to 5. Alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, Parton starred in the movie as a secretary who helps overthrow her obnoxious and sexist boss. The feminist comedy film was a massive hit, grossing over $103.9 million at the box office.
In addition to acting, Parton also wrote and sang the title song of the movie, “9 to 5.” The single made Parton the second woman to have a No. 1 hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and U.S. country singles chart at the same time.
“9 to 5” was also the central song for Parton’s 23rd solo album, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs. The pop/country album performed exceptionally well, remaining at the top of the Billboard Hot Country Albums chart for ten consecutive weeks.
In 2009, the film was also adapted into a Broadway musical. Parton wrote and composed all of the music for the show, receiving high praise from reviewers. Ed Pilkington of The Guardian wrote, “She is not on stage, but her presence fills it. She has composed a set of songs, accompanied with her own lyrics, that complement the original song.” Parton was also nominated for Best Original Score at the 2009 Tony Awards.
To the Big Screen
While Parton’s on-screen performances began with television specials, 9 to 5 allowed her to break into the film industry. Her second movie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, was released just a few years later in 1982. Parton received positive feedback on her performance, and the movie grossed over $69 million at the box office.
Parton was cast in one of her most iconic roles in 1989, playing the funky stylist Truvy in Steel Magnolias. The film became an instant classic, earning $95 million in the U.S. alone. After several big hits, Parton starred in several more movies including Wild Texas Wind, Unlikely Angel, Blue Valley Songbird, and Joyful Noise.
In addition to her work in film, Parton also made cameos in a number of hit television shows. She appeared on The Beverly Hillbillies, Reba, Bette, and even Hannah Montana, where she acted alongside her real-life goddaughter, Miley Cyrus. Parton also tried out voice acting for The Simpsons, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and The Magic School Bus.
Look to My Right and I See the Dollywood Sign
It is impossible to talk about Parton’s incredible career without mentioning Dollywood. Parton is a co-owner of The Dollywood Company, which owns and operates the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, as well as a dinner theater, Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Dollywood’s Splash Country, and the Dream More Resort and Spa.
Shortly after the theme park opened in 1986, Parton founded the Dollywood Foundation. The non-profit organization that offered scholarships to local high schoolers for college. The Dollywood Foundation expanded in 1995, adding the Imagination Library, a book donation program for children under 5. The Imagination Library mails one book per month to children from birth to kindergarten, serving 850,000 children each month.
When Tennessee saw devastating wildfires in 2016, the Dollywood Foundation started the My People Fund to help those affected by the fires.
While Parton’s net worth may be rising, it is not for her lack of giving back to the community. Philanthropy has always been a priority for her, which can also be seen through her previous work with the American Red Cross, HIV/AIDS foundations, American Eagles Foundation, and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Parton contributed an additional $1 million to VUMC during the development of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
Between her music career, acting gigs, and nonprofit leadership, it is hard to imagine that Parton could fit anything else on her plate. But from 1979 to 2022, Parton has written and published eight books.
Parton’s first book, Just the Way I Am is a collection of her songs and her reflections on them. In 1994, she wrote a memoir titled Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. She then moved on to writing children’s literature, including two picture books called Coat of Many Colors and I Am a Rainbow.
Expanding upon a popular commencement speech she gave at the University of Tennessee, Parton tried her hand at writing a personal growth book, Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You. She also compiled some of her favorite recipes into Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s: Love, Laughter and Lots of Good Food
Her most recent publication debuted in 2020, titled Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. The hefty hardcover coffee table book recounts some of Parton’s most impactful lyrics, looks, stories, and business archives.
In 2022, Parton announced that she partnered with author James Patterson to write a thriller novel, Run Rose Run. The book debuted on March 4, 2022, alongside Parton’s 52nd studio album of the same title.
Parton’s career has never been about the money (although it is a nice perk). “I take myself more serious as a songwriter than anything else,” she said. “I always say I’ve written about 3,000 songs and three good ones, but I just love the joy of writing.”
Whether her net worth amounts to $350 million, $600 million, or 50 cents, it will always be about the music to her.
Photo by Stacie Huckeba/Butterfly Records LLC