While she may be best known for her country crooning and sex-apeal her investment in Dollywood has helped her become one of the richest musicians in the world.
In the mid 1970s Elvis Presley, then in the middle of his comeback, approached Dolly Parton. He wanted to cover “I Will Always Love You,” Parton’s 1974 chart-topping single. Having the King of Rock and Roll cover one of her tunes seemed to be a no-brainer.
But there was a catch: Presley’s manager insisted that she sign over half the publishing rights. Parton refused. Ever since she started her own music publishing company in 1966, she had held onto nearly all of her publishing rights, which meant she got paid a bigger royalty whenever one of her songs is played or covered. She wasn’t about to change that—even for the King. The deal was called off.
Almost two decades later, Whitney Houston covered the song, with Parton holding on to those lucrative publishing rights. Every time it is played on the radio, purchased as a cassette or used in a film, Parton receives a publishing fee.
The song has made her very rich: “When Whitney [Houston’s version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland,” she told Country Music Television in 2006. (In actuality, she didn’t buy Graceland, and instead invested some of the royalties from the song in a Black community in Nashville by purchasing an office complex there.)
It’s that kind of shrewd business mindset that has helped Parton build an estimated $350 million fortune. And while her music catalog makes up about a third of that, her largest asset is Dollywood, the theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee that she cofounded 35 years ago. It was one in a series of moves made by Parton, who has proved herself as talented a businesswoman as she is a singer-songwriter. According to Forbes,
At age 75, Parton remains as in demand as ever. And also has more sex-appeal than maybe any women approaching… 80 years young of age…