In a candid interview with Closer Weekly, Porter Wagoner’s children exclusively open up about the close bond — both onstage and off — that their father shared with country superstar Dolly Parton.
“There’s no doubt that they loved each other,” Porter’s daughter Debra reveals in the new issue of Closer, on newsstands now.
In fact, it was one of country music’s most passionate bonds, reveal insiders close to the country duo. “When Dolly looks back at her life, Porter was the single most important man in it, outside of her husband and father,” one Dolly confidant tells Closer.
Dolly and Porter in 1968.
Dolly’s life was changed at 21 when Porter hired her to become the new female vocalist on The Porter Wagoner Show, a musical variety series where he presided in his sparkling rhinestone suits and an impeccable blond pompadour.
“She helped reignite his songwriting and rejuvenate his career,” Debra tells Closer. In addition to numerous hit duets, the pair won the Country Music Association’s Vocal Duo of the Year award three times. Though she was grateful for her break, her goals went beyond Nashville, Tenn. “Dolly was determined,” says Debra. “She had dreams of Hollywood. She had dreams of crossing over to pop.”
Dolly had promised to remain with the show for five years, but she stayed for seven. Discussing leaving the show always turned into an argument with Porter, so she decided to write him a song to say goodbye, inspiring the song “I Will Always Love You.” The next day, Dolly sang it for Porter, bringing tears to his eyes. “He said, ‘That’s the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.’ And he did, and the rest is history,” she says.
Dolly and Porter in 2003.
“To this day, Dolly is family,” says Debra. “She is the person who has been there for us on all the most important days of our lives.”
Dolly performed “I Will Always Love You” at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, to honor Porter five months before his death in 2007. “She came to our dad’s bedside two hours before he passed away,” recalls Debra. “It meant everything in the world to us as family for her to share that time.”
For more from Closer‘s exclusive interview with Debra and Porter’s son Richard, pick up the latest issue, on newsstands now!