Despite being named as one of People Magazine 2021′s “People of The Year,” Christian Country musician Dolly Parton says she does not want to be worshipped as an idol for her generosity and voiced concern that some people worship celebrities more than God.
People Magazine announced the 75-year-old Parton and fellow celebrities Simone Biles and Sandra Oh, along with America’s teachers, as recipients of the publications 2021 “People of the Year” award, an annual achievement that honors “transformative work” in society.
“Our people of the year cover stars have all led the way in their fields to help make the world a little bit better,” the People article announcing the award recipients states.
“Dolly Parton has always done her part through efforts like her Imaginary Library which to date has given more than 160 million books to kids in need. Early in the pandemic, she saw another way to help, donating $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to support COVID research, which resulted in the Moderna vaccine that became widely available this year.”
In an interview with People, Parton said giving back should be done without seeking praise and admiration in return.
As someone who describes herself as a devout “spiritual” Christian, who had a preacher grandpa and a very “spiritual” mother, Parton said she looks to the Bible for examples of how to practice appropriate giving.
“I don’t want to be worshiped, because there’s a scripture in my Bible that talks about idol worship,” Parton explained. “And I see that happening all the time with movie stars and these celebrities. People literally worship them more than they worship God. And I just — I cringe at it sometimes.”
Even though Parton accepted the “People of the Year” title, the idea of getting attention for her charitable works left her with some skepticism.
“I have to honestly tell you, I was a little bit skeptical of being put on the cover as one of the people of the year because that’s a lot of pressure,” she continued in her interview. “But, if I can set an example, then that’s great.”
Of Parton's many charitable endeavors, her nonprofit, the Dollywood Foundation, founded in April 1988, raised $700,000 this past October for flood victims in areas of middle Tennessee.
Over 170 million children under 5 have received free books through her Imaginary Library Project founded in 1995, which aims to give books to as many children as possible to instill in them a love for reading.
The book initiative, as detailed on its website, was inspired by Parton’s personal experiences with her father being unable to read or write. At first, she began the charity with the hope to reach children in her East Tennessee county with books. However, Parton’s program has reached five different countries and gifts over 1 million free books every month.
“When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true. I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer,” Parton detailed on the website. “The seeds of these dreams are often found in books, and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”
In the interview with People, Parton shared how she loves how giving to others makes her feel.
“I’m kind of addicted to the feeling of giving — knowing that I’m doing something good for someone else,” she said. “It makes my heart feel good to know that I can do something for somebody else.”
In a 2019 interview with The Christian Post, Parton said the Christian faith has been a part of her life since childhood.
Jesus, she said, has been influential in her life for decades, and growing up in the church has left her with unforgettable memories that stay with her today.
“I never let go of that. I always felt responsible to God that I was supposed to be doing something for God,” she said at the time. “I still feel like that, and I’m still doing it, trying to. Sinning all the way, but trying my best, and asking forgiveness 70 times seven.”
Some of the songs that Parton wrote throughout her musical career she credits God for “giving her the ability to create them.” One such song is the 1974 hit “I Will Always Love You,” which she said has lyrics that came directly from God, not herself.
“I live on spiritual energy, creative and spiritual energy because I do go a lot,” Parton concluded. “I work hard. I work really, really hard. But I love my work. It’s like, only when you go through family problems or heartaches [that] you actually have to lean on God for even more. But I really feel like I have a calling. I always felt I had a mission. Don’t know what all it is, but I feel like God had told me early in a feeling that I was supposed to go until He told me to stop.”
“He ain’t said nothing yet about quitting,” she added. “So I ain’t said nothing about retiring yet. But I just know that I will go until I can’t go anymore because I do believe that I can give something to this world. Until God says stop, I’ll keep going.”