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Dolly Parton’s Nashville Peers Didn’t Approve of Her ‘Very Low’ 1980 Academy Awards Dress

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In the late 1970s, Dolly Parton made some major career moves. After quitting The Porter Wagoner Show, she set off on her own to be a solo artist. While she was considered a successful country artist in Nashville, the “Jolene” singer wasn’t selling quite as many records as she would have liked. So she got herself a Hollywood manager and started branching out with her music. In 1980, she began starring in films, with 9 to 5 being her first. She even presented at the Academy Awards. Her Nashville peers thought the Queen of Country had left them behind and “gone Hollywood.”

In 1981, Parton was “reluctant” to do an interview with Playgirl Magazine because she was worried about her image. But she went ahead and did the interview anyway.

“I don’t want to get on the cover of too many sex-oriented things, although I love that stuff myself,” she said, as recorded in the book Dolly on Dolly. “I just don’t want to do ’em to a point where it looks like, here I am in Hollywood, I start wearin’ low-neck clothes, I start doing Whorehouse, I start doin’ Playgirl and Playboy, and then my image changes. It means something to me, what my family and my people think and feel. I’m still the same person I was before I ever got to Hollywood.”

When Parton first set her sights on Hollywood, many of her Nashville contemporaries suggested she was “abandoning her country roots.”

The dress Parton wore to the 1980 Academy Awards stood as further proof to her friends back in Nashville that she’d changed.

“I got a lot of comments about the dress,” she said. “It was very low. It was a little much for me, but it was somethin’ I wanted to wear because I wanted to look like Old Hollywood, ’cause it was kind of a thrill and a fantasy for me.”

RELATED: Dolly Parton Admitted She Recorded Albums She Wasn’t ‘Particularly Proud of’ to Move Her Career Forward

Shortly after, Parton went home to Nashville and somebody told her: “Well, hell, I’m real glad to see you; I’m surprised you’re talking to us. We figured you got out there with all those people and went crazy with all of them dope heads.”

The “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” singer said the comment “kinda hit me real hard, but it was good that it did.”

Parton definitely noticed a difference in her fans, too, when she started incorporating more pop and rock elements into her music.

“When I first got the bigger band and started doin’ more rocky things, some people hollered, ‘Do your country, we don’t need your rock ‘n’ roll,’” Parton told Playboy in 1978. “I don’t do rock ‘n’ roll. I knew what I was tryin’ to do and I didn’t have time to try to explain it to them.”

RELATED: Dolly Parton Says This 1970 Song Is ‘One of the Saddest Songs I’ve Ever Been a Part Of’

What hurt the “Rockin’ Years” singer most of all was that her fans thought she’d changed.

“Well, basically, I’m still country,” she said. “The smart ones saw what I was doin’. . . the other ones. . . Well, I could kill those people and bust their heads. My show will always be me!”

While Parton might have broadened her horizons musically for a few years to reach a wider audience (which worked, by the way), she was back to her usual sound by 1981. And the low-cut outfits became a regular part of her show costumes. Despite what anyone said, she was always country at heart — no matter what she wore.



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