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Inside Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner’s Legendary Feud

Nastiest Feud Between Parton & Wagoner After a 7-Year Teamup
  • Arden is a Senior Country Music Journalist for Country Thang Daily, specializing in classic hits and contemporary chart-toppers.
  • Prior to joining Country Thang Daily, Arden wrote for Billboard and People magazine, covering country music legends and emerging artists.
  • Arden holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Tennessee, with a minor in Music Studies.

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were known as country music’s legendary duo, and so was their feud that led to their breakup and a nasty lawsuit. 

The duo first joined forces in 1967 and achieved wild success from the late ‘60s until the ‘70s, but things weren’t always that easy. And it started to get tense between them like ‘fire and ice,’ and Dolly even ended up calling him a “male chauvinist pig” years after their split. But although the two ended up on very bad terms, they managed to reconcile and reconnect as artists and friends over the years.   

So, let’s go back down memory lane and see how it all started, the feud, until Porter’s death in 2007. 

The Legendary Duo: Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner

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The blonde bombshell was only 21 years old at the time, and she was just starting to make a name for herself in the industry when she met Porter Wagoner. On the other hand, Wagoner had what was called during that time the “number one syndicated country show in the nation,” and he just lost one of his leading female singers. 

He heard Dolly’s song “Dumb Blonde” from her first album ‘Hello, I’m Dolly’ and it definitely caught his attention. He asked her to take the part, and she said yes. And that moment changed the course of their lives forever, especially for Dolly, who finally found her big break. 

Although she didn’t expect to stay that long on the show as she preferred solo work, Parton ended up being part of it for almost a decade. In an interview with Wagoner’s daughter, Debra, she said that Dolly helped reignite her father’s songwriting and also rejuvenated his career. And their wild success together was definitely undeniable, releasing back-to-back hits and even earned themselves Vocal Duo of the Year three times at the CMA Awards. 

The End of a Partnership

But in 1974, after seven years of partnership and collaboration, Dolly Parton decided to strike out on her own. They had been fighting most of the time as he made decisions about their performances that she vocally expressed she didn’t like. Their relationship definitely was up and down all the time, colliding, as both of them were very strong-willed, confident artists. 

She always tried to go along with him but only to the point that was reasonable. Beyond that, she would go and prove her point even if it killed her. And besides, she had her own bigger plans for herself. 

So, one day, she decided to finally chart on her new path and wrote him a goodbye song. The next day, she walked into his office, told him to sit down, and then hit play. Wagoner started crying and told her it was the prettiest song he had ever heard. And she could go provided that he gets to produce the record. The song was “I Will Always Love You,” which became one of Dolly Parton songs that truly stamped her name in the industry.

The Curveball: A Nasty Lawsuit

RELATED: Country Music Feuds Fans Still Argue About

Dolly Parton soon became one of the biggest country music artists of her time, and things were definitely going well for her. But then, Wagoner threw her a curveball and sued her for breach of contract in 1979. He asked for $3 million, alleging that Dolly leaving the show forced him to cancel some tours. On top of that, he also claimed that even though she left the show, he was still her manager and was entitled to a percentage of her earnings. The lawsuit eventually got settled, and the two reconciled. 

According to Wagoner in a 1983 article, the true story behind the feud was that it never really developed. He said that litigations with attorneys would drag you down in the mud and make you look like bitter enemies. But he insisted that he had nothing but love for Dolly. 

The Final Moments

Five months before Porter Wagoner passed away in 2007, Dolly honored him with a performance of “I Will Always Love You” at the Grand Ole Opry. According to Debra, there was no doubt that they loved each other. Debra also revealed that Dolly was there at his bedside two hours before he peacefully rested. And it meant everything in the world to them as a family for her to share that time. 

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner’s feud could have created a long-lasting barrier between them, but their respect and love for each other brought them back in each other’s arms. 

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