(NEW YORK) — Country music titan Dolly Parton is anything but shy. In an exclusive interview with Nightline, Parton dished about her love life (including those rumors that she is secretly gay), losing a drag queen lookalike contest and building a multimillion-dollar entertainment empire.
In her long reign as a country music legend, Parton, now 66, has done it all. In her new motivational memoir, Dream More, which will be released on Nov. 27, Parton talks about growing up dirt poor in Sevierville, Tenn., in a cabin with 11 siblings. She said she modeled her signature big, blonde hair and red-lipped, voluptuous Dolly look after the town tramp.
“There was this woman, we won’t call her names, but she was beautiful,” she said. “I had never seen anybody, you know, with the yellow hair all piled up and the red lipstick and the rouge and the high-heeled shoes, and I thought, ‘This is what I want to look like.'”
Parton is refreshingly honest about things most entertainers guard ferociously, including rumors about her love life.
“I’ve…been accused of being involved with every man I’m ever seen with or worked with,” she said. “Maybe I have, maybe I ain’t. I never tell if I have. But you know people always saying that.”
Parton has also been accused of being secretly gay and romantically involved with one of her oldest childhood friends, Judy Ogle. She denied the rumors and said she even bonded with talk show queen Oprah Winfrey over the false tabloid claims. Parton has been married to her husband, Carl Dean, for 46 years.
“Like Gayle [King], her friend, Judy, my friend, they just think that you just can’t be that close to somebody,” Parton said. “Judy and I have been best friends since we were like in the third and fourth grade….We still just have a great friendship and relationship and I love her as much as I love anybody in the whole world, but we’re not romantically involved.”
As a campy, vampy icon, Parton said she once entered a drag queen look-alike contest — and lost. The other contestants didn’t know they were going up against the real Dolly.
“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 said, laughing. “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, and they just thought I was some little short gay guy…but I got the least applause.”
Parton is a proud supporter of LGBT rights and even hosts “Gay Day” at her theme park, Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Parton said the event caught the attention of the Ku Klux Klan.
“When it first started there were people giving us threats, I still get threats,” Parton said. “But like I said, I’m in business. I just don’t feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody.”
Parton is also not shy about her numerous plastic surgery procedures, and said aging with her breast implants has been just fine.
“I haven’t had to have that done in years, and my girls are going pretty good,” she said.
Behind that va-va-voom body is a shrewd businesswoman. She starred in several iconic movies such as 9 to 5 and Steel Magnolias. She has sold 100 million records and had numerous number-one singles. Her 1974 chart-topping hit, “I Will Always Love You,” was later immortalized by Whitney Houston in the 1992 blockbuster film The Bodyguard.
“When they played it at her funeral and they lifted her coffin up, man, it was like somebody stabbed me in the heart with a knife,” Parton said. “It just overwhelmed me.”
Her songs are her legacy, but so too is the Imagination Library, Parton’s literary program dedicated to her father who couldn’t read or write.
“We’ve given out 40 million books since we’ve started, which is a lot of books for a lot of kids,” she said.
Parton may help a lot of kids, but she and Dean never had children of their own.
“I often wonder, because he’s tall and he’s dark and I’m little and blonde and I just always wondered what our kids would have looked like had we had them,” she said.
Parton said she doesn’t have any regrets about not having children.
“God didn’t let me have kids so everybody’s kids could be mine,” she said. “I can keep my nieces and nephews and then when I’m sick of them, I can say, ‘Hey, come get these kids, they’re driving me crazy.’ I’m a Great Aunt Granny, is what they call me.”
And Parton has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“I will never retire unless I have to,” she said, laughing. “As long as I’m able to get up in the morning, get that makeup on and my high heels on, and even if I can’t wear high heels, I’m going to do like Mae West, I’m going to sit in a wheelchair with my high heels on.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Frank Pallotta, CNN Newswire
Jim Bennett, Deseret News