Yes, Dolly Parton Really Did Turn Down the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Twice)—Here’s Why

Dolly Parton performing in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2016.
Dolly Parton performing in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2016. / Jason Squires/Getty Images

Dolly Parton seems like she’d qualify for the Presidential Medal of Freedom based on her cultural contributions alone, from songs like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” to hit movies like Steel Magnolias (1989) and 1980's 9 to 5 (not to mention her Tennessee theme park, Dollywood).

But as all Dolly devotees know, her initiatives reach far beyond the entertainment world. She promotes child literacy through her Imagination Library—which has donated more than 100 million books to kids since its foundation in 1995—and she also helped fund the development of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

In short, you’d be well within reason to ask why Parton hasn’t been offered the medal yet. But as she shared during a virtual appearance on NBC’s TODAY earlier this year, she actually has been offered it—twice, both during Donald Trump’s tenure. The first time she turned it down because her husband was ill. The second offer came during the thick of the pandemic, and she decided to decline the award rather than have to travel to accept it.

As for whether Parton would accept a third offer, she’s not sure. “Now I feel like if I take it, I’ll be doing politics,” she explained. In other words, she seems to be wary that the move would be read as an endorsement of one administration over another, and Parton is famously mum when it comes to politics.

In any case, receiving the medal doesn’t appear to be much of a focus for her. “I don’t work for those awards,” she said. “It’d be nice, but I’m not sure that I even deserve it. But that’s a nice compliment for people to think that I might deserve it.”

It’s not the first time Parton has shown such admirable humility. This past February, when Tennessee’s state government was working on getting the OK to install a Dolly Parton statue on Capitol Hill, she asked them to kill the bill. “Given all that is going on in the world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time,” she said in a statement (though she did allow that she’d be open to the possibility in some years’ time).

[h/t TODAY]