The huge honors Dolly Parton has politely turned down over the years

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Lindsay Lowe
·9 min read
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Welcome to Dollywouldn't.

Saying “no” is an important skill many of us learn throughout our lives, and Dolly Parton definitely understands the power of a polite “thanks, but no thanks."

Of course, when you’re the queen of country music, the things you say “no” to are on a fairly epic scale, from declining a chance to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show to turning down the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Parton has passed on some major honors over the years, opportunities that most mere mortals would probably have jumped at.

Recently, for example, she asked the Tennessee state legislature to cancel plans to build a statue of her at the state Capitol in Nashville.

The country icon, 75, said that while she was “humbled and honored” that lawmakers wanted to celebrate her with a statue, she said she didn't feel comfortable being elevated in that way in the current climate.

"Given all that is going on in the world, I don't think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time,” she wrote on Twitter.

Now, don’t get us wrong: Parton has graciously accepted countless awards and honors throughout her career, including 10 Grammys, four American Music Awards and two Guinness World Records, to name just a few.

Image: Today - Season 66 (Nathan Congleton / TODAY / NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)
Image: Today - Season 66 (Nathan Congleton / TODAY / NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

And it’s not that Parton isn't grateful for being honored; far from it. Friends and fans who have met the country icon over the years (like this TODAY staffer) have reported that she’s unfailingly kind and humble. But as a certified national treasure, Parton can afford to be picky.

Here’s a look at some of the most incredible things Parton has said “no” to over the years.

The Super Bowl halftime show

Pepsi Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show (Tom Pennington / Getty Images)
Pepsi Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show (Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

Parton turned down a high-profile gig a few years ago: performing alongside Katy Perry in the Super Bowl halftime show in 2015.

The country legend confirmed that Perry invited her to join her in the show, but she had to say no.

But it was for a sweet and completely understandable reason — she said she needed to care for her husband of more than 50 years, Carl Dean, who was ill at the time.

“I would have done it because I love Katy Perry, but at the time my husband was not doing good,” Parton said in a video for GQ. “He was kind of puny and I couldn’t leave him, so I couldn’t do it. But one of these days maybe we’ll do it again. I love her.”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom ... twice

Parton has turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom not once, but twice. The Trump administration apparently attempted to give her the award on two occasions, but she declined both times due to health and logistical concerns.

"I couldn't accept it because my husband was ill and then they asked me again about it and I wouldn't travel because of the COVID," she said in an interview with TODAY.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the country's highest civilian honor. If she ever does accept one, Parton will be in the company of other legendary musical honorees, including Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross.

President Obama Presents The Presidential Medal Of Freedom Awards (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
President Obama Presents The Presidential Medal Of Freedom Awards (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

But for Parton, it’s never been about the accolades.

"I don't work for those awards," she told TODAY. "It'd be nice but I'm not sure that I even deserve it. But it's a nice compliment for people to think that I might deserve it."

And even now, if President Joe Biden were to make the offer, Parton said she would be hesitant to accept it.

"Now I feel like if I take it, I'll be doing politics, so I'm not sure,” she said.

Sharing a song with Elvis Presley

For many artists, having Elvis Presley record one of their songs would have been a dream come true. However, when Presley asked Parton if he could sing her 1974 hit single, “I Will Always Love You,” she turned him down.

Image: (HPM / AP)
Image: (HPM / AP)

It was nothing against The King personally, but more of a business decision.

“I’d been invited down to the studio to meet Elvis and be there when he sang my song. That was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. Who doesn’t love Elvis?” Parton recalled to the UK’s The Big Issue last year.

However, Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, called Parton the afternoon before the recording session with some unexpected news: Presley's team would not record anything without getting 50% of the royalties.

Parton also talked about the encounter on a podcast with Reba McEntire in September.

"I said, ‘Well, that throws a new light on this,’” Partontold McEntire. “‘Because I can’t give you half the publishing. I’m gonna leave that to my family.’

"I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ And he said, ‘Well, then we can’t do it.’ And I cried all night," Parton recalled. "Because I thought, ‘Oh, I just pictured Elvis, like, singing it.’ And I know that Elvis loved it. And I know it wasn’t him, but it’s true. I said ‘no.'”

Presley was disappointed because he was such a huge fan of the song. In fact, Parton told McEntire that, years later, Elvis' ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, told her that Elvis sang the song to her as they walked down the courthouse steps after their divorce.

Riding her own rides at Dollywood

Since it opened in 1986, the Dollywood amusement park has grown to include a water park and a theme park with rides like Thunderhead, a wooden coaster with a 100-foot drop, and Barnstormer, a pendulum ride that swings people up to 81 feet in the air.

However, while Dollywood is full of attractions for thrill-seekers, Parton herself has always stayed on the ground, thank you very much — and she explained why in the most Dolly Parton way possible.

“I don’t ride the rides. I never have,” she told The New York Times in 2019. “I have a tendency to get motion sickness. Also, I’m a little bit chicken.

"With all my hair I got so much to lose, like my wig or my shoes" she added. "I don’t like to get messed up. I’m gonna have some handsome man mess it up, I don’t want some ride doing it.”

A guest judge spot on "RuPaul’s Drag Race"

Parton is known for her support of the drag community. She once even entered a Dolly Parton drag queen lookalike contest — and lost!

"They had a bunch of Chers and Dollys that year, so I just over-exaggerated — made my beauty mark bigger, the eyes bigger, the hair bigger, everything," she told ABC in 2012. "All these beautiful drag queens had worked for weeks and months getting their clothes. So I just got in the line and I just walked across ... but I got the least applause."

However, despite her affection for all things drag, Parton has never said "yes" to being a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race," even though they've been begging her to appear for years, one judge recently revealed.

There's always a spot open on the
There's always a spot open on the

“Just to let everybody know we have asked Dolly Parton for eleven, twelve, thirteen years,” the show's longtime judge Michelle Visage told Huffpost in January. “At the end of the day it’s scheduling, and it’s a very long day for these people.”

While she has never appeared on the show in person, Parton did surprise contestants in season 12 with a recorded message of encouragement.

“Hey, RuPaul and all you gals in there!” she said in the video. “Wish I could be in that dressing room. Lord, I can only imagine all the makeup and wigs flying around!”

The Glastonbury Festival

TOPSHOT-BRITAIN-ENTERTAINMENT-MUSIC-GLASTONBURY (Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT-BRITAIN-ENTERTAINMENT-MUSIC-GLASTONBURY (Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images)

The Glastonbury Festival is one of the biggest musical festivals in the world, attracting mega headliners such as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Beyoncé.

But one singer who repeatedly turned down the chance to play at the iconic British festival? You guessed it: Dolly Parton!

According to Parton’s official website, festival staff tried to book her repeatedly since the festival began in 1970, but she always declined due to conflicts with her touring schedule. Leading up to the 2014 festival, though, organizers told her it was her “last chance” to say yes, according to The Telegraph — and at long last, she agreed.

Parton took to the festival’s iconic Pyramid stage in a white pantsuit covered in rhinestones, and her hour-long set drew bigger crowds than the headliners, Arcade Fire and Metallica, according to the BBC.

Many fans wore blond wigs in her honor as they danced and sang along to “Islands in the Stream,” “9 to 5” and “I Will Always Love You.”

Day 3 - Glastonbury Festival (Jim Dyson / Getty Images)
Day 3 - Glastonbury Festival (Jim Dyson / Getty Images)

"I've been waitin' a long time for this," Parton told the crowd, according to BBC at the time.

Though she was far from her native Tennessee, Parton told the crowd she felt right at home in the muddy countryside of Somerset, England.

"My daddy was a farmer, I grew up in East Tennessee and we made our living on a farm, so I thought, 'Well this isn't all that different,’” she said in a news conference before her Glastonbury performance. "Mud is mud, wherever you are."

Getting the coronavirus vaccine (... before everyone else)

Parton made headlines last year when she donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University to fund research on the COVID-19 vaccine.

However, the singer is saying “no” (for now) to getting vaccinated herself, even though at 75, she is eligible for inoculation.

“I’m not going to get mine until some more people get theirs,” she told the Associated Press in February. “I don’t want it to look like I’m jumping the line just because I donated money. I’m very funny about that. I’m going to get mine though, but I’m going to wait.”

She said she did consider getting the vaccine on her 75th birthday in January, but decided against it because she didn’t want to look like she was “doing it for a show.”

When she does get her shot eventually, the singer said she will “probably do it on camera” to encourage others to follow in her footsteps.

“I’ll tell them the truth, if I have symptoms and all that,” she said. “Hopefully it’ll encourage people. I’m not going to jump the line just because I could.”

UPDATE: Parton shared a video of herself getting vaccinated on March 2, about a week after this article was initially published. "I wanted to tell everybody that I think you should get out there and do it too," she told fans.