If you’re a diehard Dolly Parton fan, you might have seen her sing on The Portner Wagoner Show, the show that made her famous (Via Quartz at Work). When Parton decided to call it quits, she composed a resignation letter for Wagoner — one we guarantee you’ve already heard. As Parton would later tell it, she serenaded Wagoner to her latest song, “Bitter-sweet memories, that’s all I’m taking with me,” she sang, “goodbye, please don’t cry, ’cause we both know that I’m not, what you need.” Wagoner started crying.
That may have been the first time anyone heard “I Will Always Love You,” a song that went on to top country charts in 1974 (via ABC News). When the King of Rock and Roll (and pet Chimpanzee owner), Elvis Presley heard it, he wanted in. Parton was thrilled. “Elvis is going to record my song. You’re not going to believe who’s recording my song,” she started telling people (via CMT). Then, Parton later recounted, Elvis’ manager called her up and said, “Now you know we have a rule that Elvis don’t record anything that we don’t take half the publishing.”
Parton went quiet before responding, “Well, now it’s already been a hit. I wrote it and I’ve already published it. And this is the stuff I’m leaving for my family when I’m dead and gone … I can’t give up half the publishing.” That was the end of what might have been. Parton cried all night.
Dolly Parton said no to Elvis Presley — but yes to Whitney Houston
“I always wondered what it would sound like. I know [Elvis would] kill it. Don’t you? He would have killed it,” Parton later mused to CMT. He might have. But, as fate would have it, “I Will Always Love You” was destined for other lips.
The next chapter of the story starts when Hollywood heartthrob Kevin Costner was writing and starring in The Body Guard. Costner had originally intended his co-star, Whitney Houston (who played pop diva, Rachel Marron) to sing a different song. That song fell through. Costner and his team scrambled to find another one. “So they asked me about “I Will Always Love You,” Houston later told CMT, “I sent it. I didn’t hear anything more.”
You know the rest of the story. Costner’s composer, David Foster, tweaked it into a pop ballad. Houston broke everybody’s heart’s singing it (via ABC News). Parton racked in the dough. “I really owe a great debt to Kevin Costner and to Whitney Houston and to David Foster,” Parton said. “I really feel like that song belongs to all of us … I thought God was looking out for me, that it was meant to be, because how lucky was I that that got to be such a huge song.”
Good thing, we guess, that Parton turned down Presley.
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