KANSAS CITY, MO–Rich Fontenot, a Kansas City-area homosexual and longtime Dolly Parton fan, announced Monday that he "totally respects" Parton for all she's been through.
"Dolly's been to hell and back, and she's come out smiling," said Fontenot, holding up a glossy 8x10 photo purchased at Silver Screen Memories, a Kansas City movie-memorabilia store. "That woman is a true survivor."
The country-music legend, Fontenot said, grew up with 10 siblings in a tiny shack in Sevierville, TN, her family barely having enough to eat.
"Now Dolly has, like, a zillion dollars, and everyone in the world knows who she is," Fontenot said. "She owns that whole Dollywood thing up in Pigeon Forge. But she started with absolutely nothing. Nobody gave her a thing when she was first coming up."
"You've got to have some pretty tough skin to make it in this world," Fontenot added. "Well, Dolly said, 'I'm not gonna let anybody knock me down,' and she didn't. Talk about courage."
In addition to her wildly successful singing career, Parton has made a name for herself in acting, an achievement Fontenot attributes to her "take-no-crap" attitude.
"Instead of being all worried about fitting into some Hollywood-prescribed mold of what a star is supposed to be, she just said, 'I'm me, and if you don't like it, you can stick it where the sun don't shine!' And you know what? It worked! In 9 To 5 and Steel Magnolias, she was simply fabulous."
A major part of Parton's appeal, Fontenot said, is her willingness to take risks with her image.
"Every time you see Dolly, she's totally working it with the spangles and the sequins and the full-on hair up to here," said Fontenot, motioning nearly a foot above his head. "It's as if she's saying, 'I don't care what you think–I'm doing this for me.' It just makes you want to shout, 'You go, girl!' You have to respect someone who's not afraid to be herself like that."
Though he generally prefers dance music, Fontenot admitted that he has a "major soft spot for the country divas."
"Besides Dolly, there's Wynonna and Reba and, of course, Patsy," Fontenot said. "That woman was the queen, absolutely the queen. But Dolly can belt them out just like Patsy could. And whom do we owe for writing Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You'? That's right, Dolly Parton. I love Whitney's version, but nobody can do that one like Dolly. She owns that song."
Most of Fontenot's friends agreed with his assessment of Parton.
"Me, Todd, and Marco were hanging out at Rods one night, and a Dolly Parton Christmas special came on TV," said close Fontenot friend Andrew Lord. "We all sat there completely mesmerized. I swear, that woman's got as much stage presence as Cher. Maybe more."
Despite Parton's glamorous image, Fontenot noted that she is remarkably down-to-earth. This, he said, is central to her appeal.
"For all her fame and fortune, Dolly's never lost touch with her roots," Fontenot said. "At heart, she's still that same old country girl from Sevierville. I even heard that her husband is just a regular guy, a construction worker. You know, rough hands and big muscles and the whole bit. Who wouldn't want to be Dolly?"