Earlier this year, Dolly Parton announced four additions to her Duncan Hines collection of cake mixes. She has also put her name on a fragrance, Scent From Above; launched Doggy Parton, a brand of pet apparel; and developed a line of limited-edition cookie cutters for Williams Sonoma.

“I always say, when it comes to business, I look like a woman, but I think like a man,” says Dolly. “That has helped me a lot, because, by the time they think that I don’t know what’s goin’ on, I then got the money and am gone.”

Dolly Parton Fortune: 'Always Adding' to Bucket List
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Dolly’s innate business sense has helped her become one of the richest musicians in the world. Forbes estimates that she’s worth $350 million, although others claim it’s twice that. Her vast empire has been built on a simple motto: “Always keep something back for you,” Dolly says.

It’s a lesson Dolly’s mother, Avie Lee, and father, Robert, a sharecropper, taught her when she was just a child living in a one-room cabin with 11 siblings in rural Tennessee. “It took her a while to learn to ask for what she deserves, but she knows her value and what’s right and what she’s worthy of,” a friend of the star exclusively tells Closer. “She’s no fool when it comes to dealmaking.”

In 1974, Dolly’s common sense and self-worth were put to the test when Elvis Presley asked to record her song “I Will Always Love You.” “I was so excited. I told everybody I knew,” she recalls. But when Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, insisted Dolly sign away half her publishing rights to the song, she wisely refused. “Something in my heart [said,] ‘Don’t do that,’ and I just didn’t do it, and they just didn’t do it,” she says. In the wake of Dolly’s refusal, Col. Tom canceled the recording. “I wanted to hear Elvis sing it, and it broke my heart,” she says. “I cried all night.”

Dolly could have used the money from an Elvis single in the years ahead. She struggled financially in the late ’70s and early ’80s when she was sued twice by her former mentor, Porter Wagoner. Around the same time, Dolly also suffered health setbacks that kept her from touring extensively. “But I had to keep that copyright in my pocket,” Dolly says. “Everybody’s going to use you if they can. These are my songs. They’re like my children.”

In 1992, Whitney Houston recorded “I Will Always Love You” for the soundtrack of The Bodyguard. It would set a record as the bestselling single by a woman in the U.S. and sell over 20 million copies globally. It would also make Dolly, who wrote it in 1973, a very, very rich woman. “When Whitney came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland,” Dolly crows.

Today, the publishing rights for Dolly’s music are estimated to be worth $150 million, but Dolly is hanging on to it — for now. “It’s very possible that, for business reasons, estate planning and family things, I might sell the catalog,” she says. “I would still have some control, no matter who I sold to, and my credit for the songs.”

These days, Dolly’s music earns approximately $8 million annually without the star lifting a finger. Her other lucrative ventures, including her product licensing and Dollywood parks, make millions more. She could retire in luxury if she ever decided to stop working, but that’s very unlikely.

Dolly Parton Fortune: 'Always Adding' to Bucket List
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“Dolly has checked everything off her bucket list — but then she is always adding new things to the list,” notes the friend, who adds that Dolly’s latest dream is to create a museum in Nashville. “Dolly has a ton of memorabilia that isn’t showcased at Dollywood; she could fill a few museums!”

Dolly enjoys the thrill of making money, but the singer-songwriter doesn’t spend her cash like a high-living reality TV star. Home remains the Brentwood, Tennessee, estate she bought for $400,000 with her husband, Carl Dean, in 1999. The couple have an RV and a few modest vacation properties, too. 

“Dolly spends money on living comfortably on mostly practical purchases. She might get an expensive comfy chair for Carl, a nice porch swing for the backyard, but she’s not one to indulge herself too much,” says the friend, who adds that the only exception is Dolly’s wigs and stage wear. Some of her most elaborate outfits are custom-made and can cost thousands.

Dolly doesn’t work hard just to buy dresses or enrich her own bank account. Since its inception, her charity Imagination Library has donated nearly 170 million books to kids around the world. Some proceeds from Doggy Parton benefit animals in need. And in 2021, the Dollywood Foundation raised $700,000 for Tennessee flood victims. “I just give from the heart,” Dolly says. “I never know what I’m going to do or why I’m gonna do it. I just see a need, and if I can fill it, then I will.”