Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton were a match made in country music heaven, but would they be a romantic match? Some fans hoped so. After falling in love with the pair’s duet performances, they waited with great anticipation for the day Dolly and Kenny would announce they were finally together. That day never came, of course, but there was a good reason why. And after Kenny passed away in 2020, Dolly knew it was time to tell the couple’s true story.
The romantic tension between Kenny and Dolly first sparked in 1983 when the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb wrote and produced the song “Islands in the Stream.” Originally, it was just Kenny singing alone on the track, but something was definitely missing.
Kenny and Barry recorded for four days with little success. No matter what they tried, the song just didn’t sound complete. They needed a voice that was sweet, melodic, and wholly original. Yup, they needed Dolly! She was one of the biggest stars in the industry at that time, and a happy coincidence led her to the studio the same day.
Nope, no phone call was needed to schedule a meeting with Dolly. As luck would have it, Kenny’s manager, Ken Kragen, had made a fateful observation. “I saw her downstairs,” he’d told Kenny and Barry. Kenny immediately responded, “Well, go get her!”
So, Dolly was introduced to the song. And when she and Kenny recorded it for the first time, Barry knew they had found their missing piece. “Islands in the Stream” became a huge hit, with audiences taken in not only by Dolly and Kenny’s sweet harmonizing, but also by their flirtatious chemistry.
It didn’t take perfect vision to see that there was something in the air between Kenny and Dolly. What they had together went further than any ordinary professional duet! And as the rumors concerning Dolly and Kenny’s relationship intensified, people started to make negative assumptions about Dolly’s strangely private marriage to Carl Thomas Dean.
Dolly had been with Carl since 1966. And although she repeatedly told news reporters that they were happily married, the tabloids just didn’t buy it. They were drawn to the more alluring possibility of a love affair. The suspicions only increased once people noticed how Dolly’s husband was never around for the big moments in her life.
In fact, Dolly and Carl were rarely — if ever — seen in public together. No, Carl was never there when Dolly performed or won awards, so people started to spread the rumor that all was not well in the Parton household. And when folks saw Dolly perform with Kenny, they couldn’t help but imagine that a passionate love affair had begun between the two.
If there was any trouble between Dolly and Carl, it was never confirmed, but the rumors finally began to die down after Kenny married actress Marianne Gordon. Yet that didn’t lessen Dolly and Kenny’s genuine chemistry on stage. Even Marianne could sense a fire burning between those two.
In general, Marianne felt loved by her husband. “I always felt his total focus was on me. If anyone wanted anything from him, he was looking me in the eye and said, ‘Whatever she wants to do,'” she explained. But there had to be times when she wondered about Dolly.
After all, Kenny and Dolly’s on-stage chemistry was hard to miss. It was clear to audiences that they shared a special love for one another. And Kenny’s wife could tell there were times when the temptation was almost too much for the two to bear.
Marianne was worried about her marriage, so she and Kenny sat down and had an honest conversation. And during what Marianne later described as being a private conversation, she asked him once and for all how he felt about Dolly. But although Marianne left the conversation feeling relieved, everyone else wasn’t so sure.
It wasn’t until a friend questioned Kenny’s faithfulness that Marianne shared what her husband had told her during their conversation. “Kenny said, ‘I like [Dolly] as a friend, and we have a great thing on stage. We’d lose it.'” But then he revealed that he, too, understood the tension the audience — and Marianne — had picked up on.
“There is sexual tension and teasing each other,” Kenny admitted to Marianne. But acting on that tension would only “screw things up,” he said. So for a while, Kenny and Marianne’s marriage remained a happy one, and so did Dolly and Carl’s. As the couples got older, however, the cracks started to show.
Marianne knew just about everything that was going on with her husband. And most likely because of their open communication with each other, there was a lot of trust between them. But as Kenny entered his 50s, the mid-life crisis he experienced was too much for their marriage to withstand.
“I didn’t have his full attention any more,” Marianne later explained. “After two years, he felt this craving, this longing… He felt like his career was fading.” So, in 1993, Kenny and Marianne ended their marriage. The one constant throughout it all was Dolly. And it seemed as though her and Kenny’s chemistry had only grown over the years.
In spite of this, Dolly remained faithfully in love with her husband, saying in an interview, “I married a really good man… We’ve just been best buddies and best friends, and, evidently, it’s working!” And in 2011 she finally explained why Carl is never seen with her in public.
Apparently, after attending an award ceremony in 1966, Carl firmly said, “Dolly, I want you to have everything you want, and I’m happy for you, but don’t you ever ask me to go to another one of them dang things again!” Meanwhile, Kenny found his own great love in 1997.
Yep, Kenny finally seemed to have found the one in his fifth wife Wanda Miller. Although there was an age gap of 24 years between the pair, they considered each other to be soulmates. And they had a beautiful life together, raising twin boys they adored. Yet even so, Kenny had to face more questions about his relationship with Dolly.
Gossipers just couldn’t get over Kenny and Dolly’s bond — even after 30 years! The two country stars still had to field questions from reporters about the secret behind their unwavering chemistry. And it wasn’t until 2013 that they finally confessed the many reasons why a romance never blossomed.
Dolly explained, “It never crossed our minds because he was with people… I’ve been with my husband for 48 years.” Then she slyly added, “That’s not to say I’m blind or dead.” Kenny jumped in, joking, “She never thought I was handsome.” But he wouldn’t run away with that joke, as Dolly had a quick retort.
“I’d always thought he was handsome,” Dolly said. “I just never thought of him that way… That would screw up everything.” And in another 2017 interview, Kenny made a never-before-heard admission about his feelings for Dolly. “I’m a believer that tension is better if you keep it than if you satisfy it,” he began.
“And then, secondly, she said no to me!” Kenny added. Yet again, Dolly shut the gossipers down for good. “We were almost like brother and sister… and it would almost be like incest. So we just never went there,” she shared. In the end, everyone knew how much they loved each other — especially when Dolly said her final farewell in 2020.
It wasn’t until Kenny’s death in 2020 that Dolly realized, once and for all, how she really felt about her longtime friend. “You never know how much you love somebody until they’re gone,” she shared in an emotional post on social media. And looking back, some people may wonder if Dolly chose the right romantic path.
After all, the country legend once said, “If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.” But, obviously, taking your own path comes with a price. From the early days of her career to a head-turning 2020 interview with Oprah, Dolly has dropped truth bombs that rubbed some people the wrong way.
When Dolly made her debut as a side act on the Porter Wagoner show, she had to overcome an audience that didn’t like her style or her music. As time moved on, she paved a way for herself in spite of that, and always stuck to her guns.
Throughout her career, Dolly has made it a point that she will not take political sides, stating “I have too many fans on both sides of the fence.” When it came to the recent celebrity involvement in the 2020 election, she remained silent to some fans’ delight and others’ disappointment. Still, she wasn’t silent about everything.
Being a feminist icon since her acting role in the film 9 To 5, Dolly has taken a much different approach to life and politics than her co-actors. With the pressure of a demographically mixed audience, she is very careful of what to say, but that doesn’t mean she avoids controversy all the time.
Dolly’s personal life isn’t really publicized, and there isn’t too much she often shares. Being as much of a business woman as she is an entertainer, she’s well aware of what her words can do to her career. In spite of that, she does speak up where she feels she needs to.
Back in 2018, Dolly made the choice to rename her “Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction” theater to “Dolly Parton’s Stampede.” For Dolly, it’s important to not offend anyone, and she’s became well aware of how hurtful the term “Dixie” was with its close ties to slavery.
In light of recent racial issues, Dolly stood by the Black Lives Matter movement in her own way. She’s never attended marches, but she has said she supports the movement, saying in an interview with Billboard, “I understand people having to make themselves known and felt and seen.” Her political views are generally quiet, but Dolly’s been more vocal about her personal choices.
Along with her prolific career, the singer has aimed to make change in her own ways. It was a noble cause, though many wondered why Dolly took this step.
That’s because, unlike many of her peers, Dolly never had children. But in an interview with Oprah on her Apple TV+ show The Oprah Conversation, she finally opened up. It was a candid recount on how and why she continued her life without a family, and how she believes God has everything to do with it.
In her interview with Oprah, she feels that not having children to raise and being with a man who’s just as independent as she is, has been a key to success in her career. Though people with a more conservative viewpoint may criticize her for it, she also makes an argument that may turn heads.
Dolly shares, “I believed that God didn’t mean for me to have kids so everybody’s kids could be mine… If I hadn’t had the freedom to work, I wouldn’t have done all the things I’ve done.” In retrospect, the results have spoken for themselves.
For Dolly, work is something she loves. Whether it’s work for herself or for the unacquainted children that she aims to support, she is always busy. It helps her to feel young again — along with all those plastic surgeries. Really, what she says is she felt a particular calling, both to music and to philanthropy.
Going the extra mile, Dolly started the Dollywood Foundation, which helps children achieve academic success through scholarships and donations. Since its start back in 1988, the foundation has financed more than 30 teens’ education, brought millions of children reading material at no cost to them, and even reduced the school drop out rate in key areas.
In addition, Dolly has poured millions of her own revenue into a special project she calls “Imagination Library” which aims to help parents provide their children with free books regardless of their income. By 2003, Imagination Library had reached its one millionth book donated.
Dolly has made such incredible strides for kids, and she has never put down anyone else’s choice to have children. In fact, she acknowledges that, although she’s had the freedom to go down that road, prioritizing her busy career has pushed her to make difficult sacrifices.
Later in the interview, Dolly admitted how she doesn’t see family or friends often, let alone find any vacation time for herself. At the end of the day, she seems proud of the work she’s accomplished, while on the surface ignoring any controversy coming her way.
When it comes to her choices, Dolly stands firm and resolute. No apologies given, but no trash talk thrown at others. This was how her life unfolded and she’s happy with it. We don’t see much of her personal life, but what she does share, she shares with honesty and care.
In today’s age, it’s becoming harder to avoid ticking some people off. Whether it’s something complex like politics or a more personal like a woman’s choices, every issue is touchy. And while Dolly makes her choice to speak out or not, she always keeps one thing in mind.
“I do believe we all have a right to be exactly who we are, and it is not my place to judge… God is the judge, not us. I just try to be myself. I try to let everybody else be themselves.” Regardless of what some may think of her, Dolly will just keep on smiling.
Controversy hits celebrities like a running train, but Dolly consistently finds a way through. It just goes to show that an open heart and a generous spirit go further in the music industry than one may think!