The Loretta Lynn Only We Knew: Country Legend's Pals Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson & Reba McEntire Tell All

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Apr. 10 2023, Published 7:30 a.m. ET

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Queen of country music Loretta Lynn was wed at 15 and had three young children with husband Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn before she was 21 and seemed destined for a hard life. She was raising her growing family in a three-room house with no running water or indoor plumbing — until Doo heard her singing to their children one night and knew she had what it took to be a star! He bought Loretta a $17 dollar guitar for her 26th birthday and took her to local watering holes to sing with the house bands. In 1960, she recorded her first single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” — and the rest, as they say, is history!

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Loretta, who died in October 2022, became one of the most successful performers in country music, her songs expressing feminine strength and determination and a sense that women would no longer simply stand by their man.

Some of her songs — “Fist City,” “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” and “The Pill” — were considered too risqué and were banned by radio stations! But Loretta stood beside her songs and went on. During the highs and lows of her journey, she met and befriended hundreds of other singers. And NOT ONE of them ever had a bad thing to say about her!

Although she’s one of the brightest stars on the planet, with a fortune estimated at $65 million, her closest pals say she was the most modest, down-to-earth woman, and her ego never got in the way of her sweet personality. In fact, she said building her own career is something any woman could do! “I just set out to do my own voice,” said Loretta. “And you girls can do it too. You can do it just as good as me or better.”

Her megafamous superstar friends like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire have sung Loretta’s praises for decades! She met Nelson for the first time in the early 1960s and said, “When I first came to Nashville, I met Willie and we did some shows together. I thought he was one of the most handsome men I’d ever seen.”

Both artists have done amazing duets over their long careers — but they never stepped into the studio with each other until 2016. Loretta invited Willie to share the song “Lay Me Down” with her for her Full Circle album. The result was a beautiful and somber duet about the peace they hope to feel after death. Later that year, marijuana fan Willie urged Loretta, then 84, to give pot a try for her glaucoma. “She’s got a lot of guts,” said Nelson.

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“She’ll try anything. And she had a great sense of humor.”

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Said Loretta, “He’s one of the greatest people in the whole world. I know he smokes pot, but there’s a lot of people doing a lot worse than smoking pot.” But she didn’t like the way weed made her feel and said, “It got me right in the chest. I’d like to have died. I guess glaucoma will have to take over.”

"It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” hitmaker Alan Jackson had nothing but praise for Loretta. “Her voice, there’s just something about it that sounds real,” he said. “She’s a real person, and she writes about things her fans can identify with. She’s one of a kind. She’s so likable. She’s the genuine article, not out there singing like some star. She’s just herself. Original.”

Dolly Parton, 76, and Loretta had been close friends since the 1960s. They partnered with Tammy Wynette in 1993 for the album Honky Tonk Angels, which reached gold status just two months after its release. Loretta and Parton often appeared at awards shows and on TV specials together.

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They kept up with each other and celebrated their successes. In 2019, Loretta tweeted to congratulate Parton on the 50th anniversary of her induction into the Grand Ole Opry. She wrote, “Congrats to my dear friend, @DollyParton, for celebrating 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She’s my mountain sister. I love her music and I will always love her.”

Parton felt the same. She regularly put out photos of herself and Loretta together on social media, captioning them, “Friends forever.”

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Added Parton, “Loretta was real. She spoke her mind. Her kindness and humanity were huge.” When asked who would be her closest competitor, Loretta named Parton! “Oh, yeah, you never know what she’s going to do next, she’s crazier than a loon! I love Dolly.”

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Tanya Tucker, another member of country royalty, was an admirer, too. “She was buddy,” said Tanya. “She called me and we talked all the time. She was one of my best friends. I love her.”

McEntire, known for her incredible string of country hits and her own TV show, said she found it hard to tell people what Loretta meant to her because she got so emotional. “One thing I’d like to say, if I don’t choke up when I’m saying it, is that she is the most special thing country music, I think, has ever had. I mean that with all my heart. To get to sing with Loretta Lynn, the person that I’ve learned so much from over, I think, 60 years of my life ... She is still woman enough. Loretta’s been strong all her life. And that’s something that she taught me, just like my momma taught me. You be strong. You take up for yourself. And to get to sing the song ‘Still Woman Enough’ with her, that’s an anthem that women need to carry forever.”

Loretta had six children. Two of them, Betty Sue and Jack Benny, have died. Betty Sue had emphysema and Jack drowned. She’s got 27 grandchildren and 16 great-grand- children. She said family is the most important thing in her world, and in the beginning of her career, “I’d cry when I’d have to be away from them” on tours. “It was rough.”


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