When Porter Wagoner first enlisted Dolly Parton as his newest female vocalist, almost five decades ago today, both of their lives changed forever. The blonde bombshell was just 21-years-old during that time while the American singer’s musical variety show, “The Porter Wagoner Show,” was on the rise. It gave Parton the most significant break of her life.
“So that was the best break of my life, ever. And Porter and I were together all the time,” Parton revealed. “We were like brother and sister. But we were very prosperous together, very productive, and we sang great together.”
For almost a decade, Dolly Parton stayed with “The Porter Wagoner Show” until she became a very accomplished musician and vocalist herself. She and Porter Wagoner also released several hit duets and even won CMA Award for Vocal Duo of the Year three times. The two country music powerhouses embarked on a journey together that would stay with them forever.
However, the two also made one of the nastiest split in country music history.
The Split that Led to a Nasty Lawsuit
Without a doubt, Porter Wagoner was one of the most influential men in Dolly Parton’s life. He helped fuel her wildfire career. However, despite the growing amount of success Parton was experiencing from her time on Wagoner’s show, the female singer had bigger plans.
In 1973, Dolly Parton knew it was time for her to end partnership with “The Porter Wagoner Show” and move on. Parton was only obligated to be on the show for five years, but she ended up staying a total of seven. Planning to change her path always turned into a battle with Wagoner.
“How am I gonna make him understand how much I appreciate everything, but that I have to go?” Parton asked herself. “So I went home, and I thought, ‘Well, what do you do best? You write songs.’ So I sat down, and I wrote this song.”
And that song was the heart-tugging ballad “I Will Always Love You.” It’s her unique way of saying goodbye to Porter Wagoner as their professional relationship came to an end.
“I said, ‘Porter, sit down. I’ve written something I think you need to hear.’ I started singing, “I Will Always Love You,” and he started crying. When I finished, he said, ‘Well, hell! If you feel that strong about it, just go on — providing I get to produce that record because that’s the best song you ever wrote,'” Parton recalled.
Dolly Parton sang the hit song as one of her last performances on Wagoner’s show. She packed up and left, apparently on good terms. Porter Wagoner kept his promise of producing the record, and the album later went to No. 1 on the country charts.
However, what has become the country music’s nastiest breakup was just about to start. Five years later, Porter Wagoner smacked Dolly Parton with a $3 million breach of contract lawsuit. The suit grew even more into a legal tangle leading to tabloid headlines. One tabloid even suggested that Parton and Wagoner, who are both married, were having an affair. It was eventually settled out of court several years later.
The “Jolene” singer later revealed that things have always been tense. “I don’t mean this in a bad way … but he was very much a male chauvinist pig,” Parton said in her 2008 interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“That’s why we fought like crazy, because I wouldn’t put up with a bunch of stuff … I would go along to where I felt this was reasonable for me. But once it passed points where it was like, your way or my way, to prove to you that I can do it, then I would just pitch a damn fit. I wouldn’t care if it killed me.”
Mending the Fences a Few Years Later
Thankfully, these two had mended fences a few years later. In 1988, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner performed together for the first time since their 1974 split on an episode of “Dolly!” at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.
The two remained friends until Wagoner died in 2007. “We got to be very close again. We had our big separation when we first left (each other), and there were a few years that went by, but I always loved Porter, and he always loved me. Of course, time mellows you out, and we got to be really good friends again,” Parton revealed.
Despite their painful split, the “Coat of Many Colors” singer remained a faithful friend to her mentor. According to an A&E Biography of Parton, she bailed Wagoner out of tax problems. Later in his life, Wagoner hit severe financial trouble, and Parton came to the rescue by purchasing his production company for half a million dollars and then gifted it back to him as a thank you for all he had done for her.
“I was with Porter for seven years, and I learned so many things from Porter. We had one of those relationships where we were just so passionate about what we did; it was like fire and ice. We kind of butted heads all the time, but we loved each other. There was a great passion there,” Parton admitted.
Parton was also at Wagoner’s bedside two hours before he passed away. “I had to a chance to be with Porter, and I sang a little bit of “I Will Always Love You” to him on that day as well,” she revealed.
The daughter of the famed country musician and host, Debra Wagoner, also revealed that they have always considered Parton as part of the family. She admitted that Parton “been there for [them] on all the most important days of [their] lives.”
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner go down the history for the most touching and beautiful relationship ever shared. Their bond was one of the strongest out there.
“There’s no doubt that they loved each other,” Debra said.