35 Fascinating Facts About Doctor Who

Bradley Wash, Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and Tosin Cole star in Doctor Who.
Bradley Wash, Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and Tosin Cole star in Doctor Who.
Ben Blackall/BBC America

Since making its BBC debut on November 23, 1963, Doctor Who has entranced several generations of fans (including a few of its future Doctors) with its quirky mix of history and sci-fi. Here are 35 fascinating facts you might not have known about the groundbreaking series.

1. Doctor Who was created as a kids' series.

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor in 'Doctor Who'
Simon Ridgway/BBC America

Though it certainly maintains plenty of pint-sized fans to this day, the original concept for Doctor Who was specifically an educational program aimed at teaching kids about science and history. In an interview with the BBC, Waris Hussein—who, at the age of 24, directed the very first episode of Doctor Who—said that the series “was meant to be educational for kids. We were trying to educate kids about certain things about the human condition.”

2. The Doctor was partly inspired by Sherlock Holmes.

Nothing could be Better'' said Holmes', 1893. Illustration from The Stockbrokers Clerk by Arthur Conan Doyle, published in Strand Magazine March 1893. Artist Sidney E Paget
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

As one of the most adapted literary characters of all time, it’s hardly surprising that The Doctor shares a few characteristics with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective. According to the BBC, Doctor Who was partly inspired by Sherlock Holmes (and both the Fourth and Eleventh Doctors have even dressed up as him).

3. The Doctor didn't become a "Time Lord" until 1969.


Michael Webb/Keystone/Getty Images

While even the most casual of Doctor Who fans can probably tell you that The Doctor is a “Time Lord,” an ancient alien species that has the power to travel through time, the term itself wasn’t actually used until the series’ sixth season episode “The War Games.” His home planet of Gallifrey wasn’t mentioned by name until 1973.

4. The Doctor may or may not be a doctor.

Patrick Troughton (1920 - 1987), star of the popular British television sci-fi series 'Doctor Who', with members of the BBC's 'Blue Peter' team, 8th December 1967. From left to right, John Noakes, Troughton, Valerie Singleton and Peter Purves. They are so
'Doctor Who' star Patrick Troughton with members of the BBC's 'Blue Peter' team sorting out children's designs for a new alien in 1967.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Is the Doctor really a doctor? According to the Second Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton), the answer is yes … or at least he thinks so. In the season 4 episode “The Moonbase,” the Doctor’s companion, Polly, asked what audiences had been wondering for years: “Are you a medical doctor?” To which the Doctor replies, “Yes, I think I was once, Polly. I think I took a degree once in Glasgow. 1888 I think.”

5. The First Doctor's health problems led to the regeneration concept.

William Hartnell, who played the First Doctor from 1963 to 1966, was having health problems toward the end of his run on the series. To ensure that the show could go on without its original star, and to avoid enraging viewers who had come to love Hartnell, the showrunners decided that, instead, they would make the ability to regenerate be a part of The Doctor’s mythology.

6. The Doctor's regeneration is supposed to feel like a bad acid trip.

William Hartnell stars in 'Doctor Who' in 1964.
William Hartnell stars in Doctor Who in 1964.
Harry Todd/Getty Images

Years after it was written, an internal BBC memo was uncovered that outlined the “metaphysical change” that would take place as the First Doctor became the Second Doctor. “It is as if he had had the L.S.D. drug,” the memo explained, “and instead of experiencing the kicks, he has the hell and dank horror which can be its effect.”

7. The TARDIS isn’t always supposed to look like a police box.

Lin (CHARLOTTE RITCHIE), The TARDIS, Mitch (NIKESH PATEL) in 'Doctor Who'
Sophie Mutevelian/BBC America

The TARDIS has always looked like a police box, but it turns out that’s only because of a technical malfunction. In “An Unearthly Child,” the pilot episode, we learn that the TARDIS is supposed to blend into whatever time and place it has traveled to. But its cloaking device, known as a chameleon circuit, is broken.

8. Ridley Scott was supposed to design the Daleks.

Ridley Scott circa 1979
A portrait of Ridley Scott circa 1979.
Graham Morris/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Considering what he did with Alien and Blade Runner, seeing what Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott would have dreamed up for the Daleks would have been pretty fascinating. Unfortunately, we’ll never have the chance. Though Scott, who worked for the BBC at the time of Doctor Who’s creation, was assigned the enviable task of designing the show’s devilish Daleks, he ended up leaving the network to concentrate on becoming a director.

Instead, we have the late Raymond Cusick to thank for the Daleks’ iconic design. "People do say I was inspired by a pepper pot—but I always think 'If that's all it takes to become a designer then it's a doddle,'” Cusick once said of the final design.

9. One of Doctor Who's original creators was not happy about the Daleks.


Mike Lawn/Getty Images

Sydney Newman, the BBC’s then-head of drama and one of Doctor Who’s original creators, was very specific about one thing he did not want to see in the series: “Being a real aficionado of science fiction, I hated stories which used bug-eyed monsters, otherwise known as BEMs,” he recalled. “I write in my memo that there would be no bug-eyed monsters in Doctor Who. And after a few episodes, [producer] Verity Lambert turned up with the Daleks! I bawled her out for it, but she said ‘Honest, Sydney, they’re not bug-eyed monsters—they’re human beings who are so advanced that their bodies have atrophied and they need these casings to manipulate and do the things they want!’ Of course, the Daleks took off and captured everybody’s imagination. Some of the best things I have ever done are the thing I never wanted to do.”

10. Operators controlled the Daleks from inside—and it was no easy task.

An actor inside his Dalek costume on the set of 'Doctor Who' in 1964.
An actor inside his Dalek costume on the set of 'Doctor Who' in 1964.
Ronald Dumont/Express/Getty Images

The Daleks were designed in two parts so that an operator could wedge themselves into the bottom portion in order to operate the device. The space was hot, cramped, and made it difficult to hear anything going on outside the Dalek. “You had to have about six hands: one to do the eyestalk, one to do the light, one for the gun, another for the smoke canister underneath, yet another for the sink plunger” John Scott Martin, one of the original Dalek operators, said. “If you were related to an octopus, then it helped.”

11. The Daleks almost didn't make it into Doctor Who's revival.

When Doctor Who made its triumphant return to television in 2005, it almost happened without the Daleks. The estate of Terry Nation, who created the mutants, had initially attempted to block their return to the new series, claiming that it would “ruin the brand of the Daleks.” At one point, when negotiations between the BBC and Nation’s estate seemed to have broken down, the show’s producers even created a new villain. Fortunately, they were able to work it out.

12. Douglas Adams wrote several episodes of Doctor Who.

Author Douglas Adams poses for a picture in 1985.
Author Douglas Adams poses for a picture in 1985.
Ed Kashi/Liaison/Getty Images

At the same time he was creating episodes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for BBC Radio 4, Douglas Adams was commissioned to do some writing for Doctor Who. According to Adams, the first episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide “more or less coincided with the summer period at the BBC, where, in order for anything to get approved, you have to wait for people to come back from whichever beach they're lying on. So that took a long time. While I was kicking my heels, I sent in my pilot episode to the then script editor of Doctor Who, Robert Holmes, who said 'Yes, yes. Like this. Come round and see us.' So we discussed ideas for a bit, and I eventually got commissioned to write four Doctor Who episodes. It took a long time to reach that decision, and then, after all this period of nothing happening, I was suddenly commissioned to write four Doctor Whos and the next five Hitchhikers all at once."

13. Tom Baker had the longest tenure as The Doctor on Doctor Who.

Tom Baker played The Doctor for a record seven years.
Tom Baker played The Doctor for a record seven years.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Fourth Doctor Tom Baker played the Doctor for seven years and 172 episodes—longer than any other actor. As far as the rebooted series goes, David Tennant holds the record with six years and 47 episodes.

14. The Fourth Doctor hawked computers in the 1980s.

In the 1980s, personal computers were still pretty futuristic. So it makes sense that Prime Computer would enlist Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor from 1974 to 1981, to serve as their spokesperson/spokestimelord. His faithful companion Romana (Lalla Ward) made an appearance, too.

15. It took six years to trademark the TARDIS.


Chris Jackson/Getty Images

In 1996, after years of selling TARDIS-branded merchandise, the BBC attempted to officially trademark The Doctor’s preferred mode of transportation—but the move was met with resistance from the Metropolitan Police, as the time-travel machine is essentially a police box. Six years later, in 2002, the BBC finally won the case, while the Metropolitan Police were ordered to pay £850, plus legal costs.

16. David Tennant became an actor with the specific goal of playing the Doctor.

David Tennant stars in 'Broadchurch'
Colin Hutton, BBC America

When the Tenth Doctor was just a kid, he knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up: the star of Doctor Who. It was Tom Baker’s version of The Doctor in particular that inspired David Tennant to become an actor. He carried around a Doctor Who doll and wrote Who-inspired essays at school. "Doctor Who was a massive influence," Tennant told Rolling Stone. "I think it was for everyone in my generation; growing up, it was just part of the cultural furniture in Britain in the '70s and '80s."

17. Peter Capaldi was a major Whovian, too (and wouldn't leave the BBC alone).

Peter Capaldi at 'Doctor Who' panel during 2017 Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Peter Capaldi at 'Doctor Who' panel during 2017 Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi was obsessed with the series as a kid, too. As a teenager, he created a ton of Doctor Who fan art and even managed to get some of it published. More than 40 years before he became The Doctor, some BBC staffers already knew his name—because he used to inundate them with letters requesting production photos and begging to be named president of the show’s fan club.

“He haunted my time running the fan club, as he was quite indignant he wasn’t considered for the post,” recalled Sarah Newman, an assistant to the show’s producer at the time, who was forced to tell the teenage future-Doctor that they had already named a president.

18. Catherine Zeta-Jones could have been The Doctor.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Though Jodie Whittaker is the series' first official female Doctor, she's not the first actress to be considered for the role. Back in the 1980s, Sydney Newman had an idea for how to revitalize the show: regenerate the Time Lord into a Time Lady. For years, the show’s producers have toyed with the idea of making The Doctor a woman. In 2008, showrunner Russell Davies broached the idea yet again, citing Catherine Zeta-Jones as his top pick to replace Tennant.

19. Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugh Grant both turned down the chance to play The Doctor.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch of 'The Fifth Estate' poses at the Guess Portrait Studio during 2013 Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2013 in Toronto, Canada
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Catherine Zeta-Jones isn’t the only famous could’ve-been Doctor: Hugh Grant was offered the role of The Doctor when the show was being revitalized, but reportedly turned it down because he worried it wouldn’t be a hit. Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch also said no. “David and I talked about it but I thought it would have to be radically different,” Cumberbatch said.

20. Matt Smith auditioned to play Sherlock's Dr. Watson a week before auditioning for Doctor Who.

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch star in 'Sherlock'
BBC

Though Cumberbatch was always the first and only choice for Sherlock’s lead role, a number of actors—including Matt Smith—auditioned to play his sidekick, Dr. John Watson. Smith auditioned for the role just about a week before he went in and read for the Eleventh Doctor. Fortunately, the latter worked out for him. (Steven Moffat was the showrunner on both Doctor Who and Sherlock, though Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall took over those duties beginning with season 11.)

21. The Eleventh Doctor was originally supposed to have a buccaneer-inspired look.


Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Matt Smith’s professorial tweed jacket and bow tie ensemble are now pretty iconic in the Doctor Who universe, but it took a while to land on that look. The costume department tested a lot of different looks (you can see photos here), though everyone eventually agreed that the geek chic bow tie look worked for him.

22. The Eleventh Doctor’s look created a demand for bow ties.

While Matt Smith, as the Eleventh Doctor, was finding his look in his first episode, he declared that “bow ties are cool”—and he was clearly on to something. In 2010, British-based retailer Topman said that "Since the new Doctor Who aired, we have seen a dramatic rise in bow tie sales, in the last month up sales have increased by 94 percent.”

23. There's an asteroid named after the TARDIS.

Matt Smith stars in 'Doctor Who'
BBC

On May 3, 1984, Brian A. Skiff discovered a new asteroid: Asteroid 3325 TARDIS, which he named for The Doctor’s police box time machine.

24. Jodie Whittaker was Chris Chibnall's first choice to play the Thirteenth Doctor.

Jodie Whittaker stars as The Thirteenth Doctor in 'Doctor Who'
Sophie Mutevelian, BBC

Jodie Whittaker wasn't the only newcomer to the 11th season of Doctor Who: Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall, who worked with Whittaker for years and has written for the sci-fi series in the past, was tapped as the show’s new showrunner. While it’s always a big deal when the Doctor regenerates on Doctor Who, Chibnall made it clear that he wanted the next Doctor to be a woman. And Whittaker quickly rose to the very top of his list of the very few actors who could pull the role off.

"I always knew I wanted the Thirteenth Doctor to be a woman, and we’re thrilled to have secured our number choice," Chibnall said when Whittaker's casting was announced. "Jodie is a force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength, and warmth to the role."

25. Jodie Whittaker doesn't think she was an obvious choice to play the Thirteenth Doctor.

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor and Haley McGee as Dorothy Skerrit in 'Doctor Who.'
Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor and Haley McGee as Dorothy Skerrit in Doctor Who.
Ben Blackall/BBC Studios/BBC America

Because so much of Whittaker's past work has been dramatic in nature, Whittaker is pretty sure that it was only because Chris Chibnall knew her offscreen personality that she was even considered for the part.

“If Chris had only known my work, I don't think he would've necessarily thought of me as right for the role, because a lot of my work has been emotional or heavily traumatized, with a quite heavy energy,” Whittaker told TV Guide. “But in real life, I'm quite hyperactive and manic. So I think he saw qualities in me that lent themselves to the role. I was lucky that he knew me personally, and knew that I was a team player and I really enjoyed being part of an ensemble, and I really love filming and being on set. You need someone who enjoys the job, because it's long hours.”

26. Jodie Whittaker's first episode was the most watched Doctor Who episode in more than 10 years.

When Jodie Whittaker made her official debut as The Doctor in the fall of 2018, approximately 9 million people tuned in to watch—making it the highest rated Doctor Who episode in more than a decade. Only Christopher Eccleston’s debut—which was the debut of the series’ reboot—beat Whittaker’s numbers (9.9 million tuned into that).

27. A 1979 episode is the most watched Doctor Who episode ever.

City Of Death,” which aired in October 1979 and featured the Fourth Doctor, boasted an amazing 16 million viewers. “Voyage of the Damned,” the 2007 Christmas episode starring Kylie Minogue opposite David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, came in second with 13.31 million viewers.

28. A 2008 episode of Doctor Who featured both a future Doctor and a future companion.

Actors Karen Gillan and Matt Smith at a Los Angeles signing for 'Doctor Who' in 2011.
Actors Karen Gillan and Matt Smith at a Los Angeles signing for Doctor Who in 2011.
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

The 2008 episode “The Fires of Pompeii,” which recreated the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, was notable for two of its guest stars: Peter Capaldi played a sculptor named Caecilius, while Karen Gillan—who played the beloved companion to Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor—was cast as a soothsayer.

29. Caitlin Blackwood, who played the young Amy Pond, is Karen Gillan’s cousin.

Caitlin Blackwood was just nine years old when she famously played the younger version of the Eleventh Doctor’s beloved companion Amy Pond. If you noticed a resemblance between Blackwood and Karen Gillan, who played the adult version of Amy, it might be because the two actors are cousins (though the first time they ever met was during an on-set table read).

30. A proposed Doctor Who movie, starring Michael Jackson, was abandoned.


Getty Images

In the late 1980s, at the height of Michael Jackson mania, Paramount Pictures proposed a Doctor Who movie that would see The King of Pop play a Time Lord. Obviously, and unfortunately, this never happened.

31. The Tenth Doctor married The Fifth Doctor's daughter, who played the Tenth Doctor's daughter.

Confused? In 2011, David Tennant married Georgia Moffett, who played his artificially created daughter, Jenny, in the 2008 episode “The Doctor’s Daughter.” In real life, Moffett really is The Doctor’s daughter; her father is Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor from 1981 to 1984.

32. More than 100 Doctor Who episodes are lost.

William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill in a 1964 episode of Doctor Who.
William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill in a 1964 episode of Doctor Who.
Moore/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, archiving media was a much more difficult—and physical—process. As a result, more than 100 episodes of the show’s original incarnation were deleted, destroyed, or otherwise lost. Fortunately, the series’ fan base has been able to step in and help, providing the network with their own personal copies to help rebuild the Doctor Who library.

33. The original Doctor Who pilot was among the missing episodes.

Initially, it seemed as if the very first episode of Doctor Who was one of the many that had been lost to time. However, in 1978 it was fortunately rediscovered in a mislabeled film can.

34. Several Doctor Who words have made it into the dictionary.


Frank Barratt/Getty Images

In 2017, sonic screwdriver was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, which defined it as "a (hand-held) electronic device which uses sound waves to perform various mechanical and technical functions. Originally and chiefly in (or in reference to) the British television series Doctor Who." It’s not the only one of the show’s phrases to make it into the OED: TARDIS, Dalek, and Cyberman are in there, too.

35. Only a few people know The Doctor's real name.

Jenna Coleman, who plays companion Clara Oswald, poses with the TARDIS in 2014.
Jenna Coleman, who plays companion Clara Oswald, poses with the TARDIS in 2014.
Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Though audiences only know him as The Doctor, the Time Lord does have a real name and a few people do know it, including The Master, River Song (the Doctor’s wife), and longtime companion Clara Oswald.

10 Facts About Ken Miles, the Race Car Driver at the Center of Ford v Ferrari

Raycrosthwaite Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Raycrosthwaite Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Though you’d be hard-pressed to find a car enthusiast who doesn't know the name Carroll Shelby, it wasn't until recently—with the release of Ford v Ferrari—that Shelby's teammate, Ken Miles, has been allowed to share the spotlight. The movie, which centers around the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mansa race that’s been the center of more than a few heated debates—has finally given Miles his due.

Director James Mangold said that the first cut of Ford v Ferrari was close to four hours long, but that he eventually had to cut it down to its final two-and-a-half-hour running time. Naturally, a lot of great material didn’t make it into the final cut, including some of the most interesting facts about Miles's life. Here are 10 fascinating facts that you won’t find in Ford v Ferrari.

1. Ken Miles started racing when he was just 11 years old.

Ken Miles was born on November 1, 1918 in Sutton Coldfield, England, a town located less than 10 miles north of Birmingham. At the ripe old age of 11, Miles started motorcycle racing on a 350 cc Triumph bike. A crash broke his nose and cost him three teeth—which led to him purchasing a larger motorcycle.

2. Ken Miles met his wife when he was a teenager.

When he was just 15 years old, Miles met a young woman named Mollie, then turned to a friend and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.” And he eventually did. The courtship was so all-consuming that at one point the headmaster of Miles's school called his parents and asked if there was something they could do about “this whole Mollie business.”

3. Ken Miles built his first car when he was 15 years old.

Miles was a busy teenager. When he was 15, he built an Austin 7 Special that he named “Nellie,” and some of the mechanical modifications he made on the car became signatures of his later vehicles. Mollie, who seemed to be a fan of the wooing, painted Nellie a British Racing Green. Miles sold Nellie during World War II, but continued to design cars after the war was over.

4. Ken Miles was a military man.

For seven years, Miles served in the British Territorial Army. His primary job was tank recovery, a job that required him to reclaim tanks and get them operational again. In 1944, he took part in the D-Day landings as part of a tank unit. Miles was also one of the first British soldiers at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, an experience he rarely talked about even though he was frequently photographed wearing his military coat.

5. Ken Miles loved American engines.

Christian Bale as Ken Miles in 'Ford v Ferrari' (2019)
Christian Bale as Ken Miles in James Mangold's Ford v Ferrari (2019).
Merrick Morton © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

During his military service, Miles found time to study and keep up with developments in engine technology. Separated from his racing friends, Miles had to work a little harder to share this love. In a letter to Motorsport Magazine, Miles went into the specifics about exactly what he loved about a new engine and how much potential he saw in it. He looked forward to designing his own supercharged version of the engine and installing it into a four-wheel drive vehicle.

6. Ken Miles understood how important physical fitness was for a driver before everyone else did.

Though physical fitness wasn’t as emphasized for drivers back then, Miles thought it was crucial, something we now know to be true. At five-foot-11-inches, Miles was a remarkably lean 147 pounds. Miles was an avid jogger who would carry two-pound weights in each hand.

7. Ken Miles once toilet-trained a cat—then was said to have done the same with a bobcat.

Miles once trained a cat to use the toilet. In addition to being a fun story he shared at parties, it was a fact that emphasized his stubbornness and his willingness to stick with a challenging assignment.

When Miles’s toilet-trained cat died, his friends sent him a wire telling him to go to the airport, where a new cat would be waiting for him. When he went to pick up the crate, Miles discovered that they’d sent him a bobcat. Carroll Shelby said in his biography that Miles was able to toilet train the bobcat as well (though Shelby was known for not letting the truth get in the way of a good story).

8. Ken Miles had a knack for sarcasm.

James T. Crow wrote an obituary for Ken Miles for Road & Track in which he wrote that Miles had "wit and charm like almost no one I’ve ever known. But if he could be elaborately polite, he also had a command of sarcasm that could make your teeth shrink." Crow’s obituary stands as one of the more complete reflections on who Miles was, and also observed that "It was said about [Miles] that he was his own worst enemy and this was undoubtedly true as he could have had almost anything he wanted if he could have been more tactful." Shelby at least was delighted by Miles’s total lack of tact.

9. Ken Miles saw himself as a mechanic first and a driver second.

Though he’s most remembered as a driver, Miles saw himself first and foremost as a mechanic. In A.J Baime’s book, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, Miles is quoted as saying “I am a mechanic. That has been the direction of my entire vocational life. Driving is a hobby, a relaxation for me, like golfing is to others.” Miles was hired on as the test driver and competition director for Shelby-American, a position that allowed him to use his mechanical expertise as well as his uncanny driving capability.

10. Ken Miles’s death changed the racing world.

On August 17, 1966, Ken Miles died when the Ford J-car he had been testing for almost an entire day at California's Riverside International Raceway flipped, crashed, and caught on fire, then broke into pieces and ejected Miles, who was killed instantly. But the J-car had been specifically designed to avoid this type of accident, and the damage done to the vehicle made it impossible to determine an exact cause for the crash.

"We really don't know what caused it," Carroll Shelby said. "The car just disintegrated. We have nobody to take his place. Nobody. He was our baseline, our guiding point. He was the backbone of our program. There will never be another Ken Miles."

Though it wasn’t uncommon for race car drivers to die in the 1960s, what was uncommon was the reaction Miles’s friends and family had to his death. Shelby said that it broke his heart when they lost Ken, and Shelby-American withdrew from Le Mans racing after 1967.

If there was a silver lining to Miles's death, it was that additional safety precautions—including a steel tube rollover cage—were implemented into the J-car's design that saved the lives of multiple other drivers, including a young Mario Andretti when he was involved in a similar crash a year later.

Ken Miles's death was a tragedy, for his young son and wife, for his team, and for the entirety of racing. Thanks to Ford v Ferrari though, Ken Miles is finally receiving the attention and recognition that should have been his all along.

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


Getty Images

Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


Getty Images

Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

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