The iconic Dolly Parton has plenty of titles to her credit already. Country legend. Actress. Business leader. Philanthropist. … The list goes on.
But now, that list is one title longer. Parton has been named one of People Magazine’s 2021 People Of The Year.
Announcing the class of 2021 this week, Parton was selected for the honor alongside actress Sandra Oh, Olympian Simone Biles and the nation’s teachers — and as always, there were loads of reasons that Parton impressed.
Along with her continuing country career, which this year found her dueting with Reba McEntire for the first time and much more, the superstar was singled out for the good work she’s done making the world a better place. Notably, that’s been through her Imagination Library, which has given more than 160 million free books to kids in multiple countries, and with her with a generous medical research donation of $1 million at the start of the pandemic. Put simply, Parton helped save countless lives, since her money helped create the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna.
Speaking with People at a photo shoot for their 2021 People of the Year issue, Parton explained why she moved so quickly to chip in on vaccine funding. And incredibly, she says she didn’t even know what her generosity made possible, until she found out on the news.
“When the pandemic happened, I knew this was gonna be a bad thing — I didn’t know how bad, but I knew it was not a good thing,” she explains. “And so I donated some money for the research. Now, I’ve gotten far more credit than I deserve, I’m sure, but I’m happy to have played a small role in that.”
As the media coverage of her invovlment ramped up, Parton seized the opportunity to help spread awareness for the vaccine, even getting her first shot on camera to encourage others. But since then, she says she’s come to understand that some people do not want the vaccine she helped make possible.
“I’m not one to tell people what to do,” she says simply.
Always bridging cultural divides, it’s just another reason that Dolly is such an icon — and now one of People’s 2021 People of the Year. And luckily, it doesn’t sound like she’s changing or stopping (or retiring) any time soon.
“I can’t stop because I’ve dreamed myself into a corner,” she says with a laugh. “Meaning, my dreams have come true … and you can’t just say ‘Oh my dreams have come true and I’m walking out of here.’ No, you’ve got to be responsible for that, to show you’re grateful for that, and to show you’re not just gonna leave that in the hands of other people. So I’m gonna be right there until I fall over dead.”