How much is Dolly Parton worth? The reason she’s not a billionaire

Dolly Parton at a media event

Dolly Parton could likely be a billionaire if she wanted to be (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

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I can’t remember a time when Dolly Parton wasn’t famous. 

As a latch-key kid with access to HBO, my earliest Dolly memories involve watching her with Lilly Tomlin and Jane Fonda as they get revenge on their boss in “9 to 5”.

Why was a 7 or 8-year-old watching a workplace comedy with adult themes? In fact, over and over again on the seemingly endless HBO loop?

It was the 80s. Things were different. 

At the point I became aware of Dolly, she’d been some level of famous for roughly 16 years. 

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” with Burt Reynolds came next. Thanks, HBO. A couple of years later, “Rhinestone” was released. And then, her massive duet hit with Kenny Rogers, “Islands in the Stream”.

By the time I was 10, I knew Dolly Parton was a talented singer and actress. And I knew that she was exceptionally funny. Dolly Parton’s career was still only just beginning and she was a cultural icon. 

Still, it seemed odd when she partnered with Herschend Family Entertainment to turn their Pigeon Forge tourist attraction Silver Dollar City into the Dollywood theme park. It was a tribute to Dolly’s Sevier County roots. 

Dolly Parton on stage at Dollywood
Dolly Parton greets guests on a Preview Day at Dollywood (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Dolly Parton’s rise to fame

Accustomed to being underestimated, Dolly didn’t stop there. She made “Steel Magnolias” and continued to be one of the most successful country singers of all time.

For example, she owned the country charts. She accrued Grammy Awards and accolades from a music industry that still didn’t quite understand her. 

When did the larger world begin to catch on that Dolly Parton was more than a pretty face with a lot of talent and a great sense of humor?

I don’t know for sure. But it should have been when Whitney Houston recorded “I Will Always Love You”.

Dolly had written the song years before, on the same day – or at least close to the same time frame – she wrote “Jolene”.

“I Will Always Love You” was written as she prepared to leave the Porter Wagoner Show and her long-time mentor for bigger things. 

Coming off a massive 80s surge, the Dolly cultural footprint had lessened some.

Following “Steel Magnolias”, there was a dry spell on the Silver Screen. Her studio albums kept her a massive country star but lacked some of the crossover appeal that had seen Dolly on the pop charts. 

As Houston’s version of the song became a massive hit, it made Dolly so much money. How much? Enough money to buy Graceland if she’d wanted to, Dolly said later. 

Read Also: Look inside Suite 1986, Dolly Parton’s former tour bus

Dolly Parton performs HeartSong
Dolly Parton sings at the site of her HeartSong Lodge and Resort, which will open in the fall of 2023 (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

The value of Dolly’s music catalog

You see, from a young age, Dolly Rebecca Parton recognized the value of her songs.

In the 60s, bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Credence Clearwater Revival sold their publishing rights for what would be pennies on the dollar.

However, Dolly Parton, who was little more than a veteran of the Cas Walker Show at that point, held on to her music catalog. When someone like Whitney Houston or Miley Cyrus sang a Dolly song, some of that money went back to the female artist from rural Tennessee. The one who so many people had underestimated for decades. 

What’s the big deal, you might ask? Of course, someone would want to keep their songs. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. 

Ask Dolly’s nearest comp, Paul McCartney.

McCartney is a billionaire despite a messy divorce that cost a large portion of his fortune. But he also lost millions upon millions when his manager Brian Epstein set up a publishing company that only gave McCartney a relatively small percentage of each song he wrote. 

Ask John Fogerty, who railed against the people who bought his publishing back in the 1960s. They later tried to sue him for plagiarizing himself.  

And it’s not like Dolly wasn’t ever approached. But certain prejudices in her early years may have kept some of the wolves from seeing the value of her publishing.

However, by the 70s, even the likes of Elvis Presley wanted a piece. Elvis wanted to record “I Will Always Love You”. But the King, who had learned the value of publishing, wanted half the song’s rights.

You could argue in the short term that Elvis lending his voice to the song might have moved enough records to make the deal worthwhile. While this may be true, Dolly said no.

So when Houston recorded the song, Dolly’s bet on herself paid off, again. 

Dolly Parton at Dollywood
Dolly Parton appears at Dollywood for a media event (archive photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

How much are the songs on Dolly’s albums worth? 

Dolly Parton has had 47 top-10 country albums.

Last year, Dolly’s music catalog was estimated at a $150 million value by Forbes.

As aging artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are looking to cash in on their publishing rights – Pink Floyd is reportedly seeking $500 million for theirs – Dolly is sitting on an incredibly valuable body of work. 

What is Dolly Parton’s worth? [2022]

The closest I could come to pinning it down was the Forbes article from the fall of 2021. The article puts Dolly Parton’s net worth at $350 million. Frankly, it seems a little low.

McCartney is likely the gold standard for aging artists making a buck. And before and after events in 2020, he toured more consistently than Dolly.

But Dolly has revenue streams from television. The “Coat of Many Colors” show was a hit.

And the movie “Joyful Noise” wasn’t massive but it did well enough. Finally, she has her music and the theme park. 

Dollywood sign in Pigeon Forge
Dollywood is one of the main attractions in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How much does Dolly Parton make from Dollywood? 

It’s hard to say what Dolly makes from Dollywood, since Dolly’s not out here bragging.

Forbes says her estimated 50% stake in the park is work about $165 million. That includes about $20 million worth of Splash Country and $15 million worth of the DreamMore Resort.

That figure will likely only grow with the upcoming expansions, including HeartSong Lodge & Resort, which is set to open next year.

In short, she’s doing very well. So why is she not a billionaire?

As a side note, if you’re interested in going to Dollywood, remember to visit Tripster to book your tickets.

Read Also: Did Dolly Parton sell Dollywood? Who owns Dollywood now?

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Why isn’t Dolly Parton a billionaire?

Dolly has all this publishing, all this theme park revenue and all of the other projects making her money. So why isn’t she a billionaire?

I think it’s fairly safe to say it’s because she doesn’t want to be.

Dolly and her husband, Carl Thomas Dean, certainly live a lifestyle of comfort. Perhaps even extravagance if measured by more common folks’ lives. But they’re just not out here trying to be the richest person to ever live. 

While she has all she needs and will be able to provide for her extended family for years to come, she is a philanthropist. 

She explained on The Kelleigh Bannen Show this spring that she tries to follow her mom’s advice to always keep something back for herself. 

“You can give what you’ve got, but don’t give it all away,” Parton said. “I pray also that God will, you know, give me enough to share and enough to spare when it comes to my money, but also to myself. Let me share everything I can, but let me keep me.”

And Dolly has shared.

From the Dollywood Foundation and the Imagination Library, which gives free books to children across the country up to age five, Dolly and the Dollywood Company give back at every opportunity. 

When the wildfires struck Sevier County, Dolly led the charge to help people in need with massive personal donations as well as her efforts to spearhead campaigns to raise funds. 

She drew a lot of attention as well for a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt University when the country, and the world, was struggling with an unprecedented situation.

And she continues to give in ways that make us all so grateful for her.  

What do you think? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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