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How Dolly Parton Saved Miley Cyrus' Life in Her Darkest Hour
Miley Cyrus making a funny face while Dolly Parton looks ashamed
Pop Culture

How Dolly Parton Saved Miley Cyrus' Life in Her Darkest Hour

The country music icon went against the grain to stick by her goddaughter's side when everyone else doubted her. Her support changed Miley's entire career.

There is a reason Dolly Parton is widely referred to as a national icon. 

Country music legend, actress, activist, entrepreneur, philanthropist — she excels in every endeavor that comes her way. Of course, some spiteful folks will still judge her for not conforming to the patriarchal expectation of having a family and doubting her abilities as a potential caregiver, but Dolly has shown time and again that she is brimming with maternal concern and compassion nonetheless.


RELATED: Why We Need To Take A Hard Look At Miley Cyrus’ Dating History

Just look at her longstanding relationship with goddaughter Miley Cyrus: the two have been thick as thieves since the latter’s ascension through the Disney channel, and they’re just as inseparable today.

Over the years, Dolly has essentially functioned as Miley’s guardian angel when it comes to navigating Hollywood’s toxic landscape, guiding her through the chaos and scrutiny with ample patience, protecting her from the evils that lurk behind the surface. It helps that Dolly has firsthand experience in the area: she’s been through the motions, heard the cries, and knows exactly what to do in each situation. 

With Miley, her wisdom truly counted. Miley and Dolly’s invincible bond teaches everyone how the concept of family is defined by togetherness, not by blood. 

Dolly Parton's Thoughtful Reaction to Miley Cyrus's 'Drastic' VMAs Show

Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus performing together on stage

You could write an entire book of essays detailing Miley’s special relationship with Dolly, but it might be more illuminating to focus on one particular time period in their lives and investigate how it exemplifies their connection. 

When Miley performed "Blurred Lines" at the 2013 VMAs, no one quite knew how to react. Or rather, they knew how to react, and it was to tear down Miley Cyrus, with a fiery vengeance we hadn’t seen before. With a single twerking motion, Miley torpedoed the picture-perfect Hannah Montana avatar that she, her family, and the Disney machine had spent years nurturing.

How dare Miley break the mold and define her own femininity? How dare she force the public to watch her provocative routine? How dare she push her agenda on live television, with millions of young supporters watching from home? 

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These are just some of the criticisms that were directed toward Miley as she dealt with the consequences of her risqué show. Her artistry was devalued, and she was panned as an attention-seeking former teen idol in crisis. Many commentators went so far as to declare the show as her child-star-going-off-the-rails moment rather than the conscious, authentic expression of creativity that it was. 

She was very proud of the work she did as Hannah Montana, but people were gonna leave her there forever [...] I did it my way, so why can’t she do it her way?

Dolly Parton to TIME

However, Dolly didn't get on the bandwagon. She commended Miley for establishing her autonomy in such a unique way. “I tell you, I understood why she had to go to such extremes to really make her point. She’s so talented. She’s so smart,” she told Maclean’s.

At the same time, Dolly said she understood why others were left shocked by Miley’s move. “I think people just think of Miley as their little daughter or granddaughter, so they take it personally,” she said. 

Dolly Parton Will Always 'Respect' Miley Cyrus's Choices

Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus and Billy Ray

Praising Miley for taking such a big risk, she also noted how she wouldn’t have been able to do the same thing herself. “First of all, I wouldn’t have had the legs and the beauty to have pulled that off,” she told the magazine.

Ultimately, she expressed admiration for her god-daughter and her ability to execute such a bold, strategic plan. “Miley knows what she’s doing; I hope she does. If she plays her cards right, she can have a long and good career. She did it like a shock jock. She had to go that way,” she said in conclusion. 

RELATED: After Yet Another Breakup, Miley Cyrus Finally Realized Her One Mistake

At a time when no one truly stood up for Miley, Dolly decided to offer support and dig deep into Miley’s rationale. According to The Sun, Dolly knew about Miley’s intention to shatter the Hannah Montana identity for quite a while. “One day she’d had enough and told me, ‘I need to murder Hannah Montana in order for people to accept who I really am,’” she told the outlet. 

However, Dolly knew how the masses operate, and she could foresee tons of backlash headed in her goddaughter’s direction. “I was holding my breath, hoping that people didn’t totally crucify her,” she said. 

Unfortunately, crucify they did. It marked a turning point in Miley’s trajectory, one that was accompanied by overwhelming censure, intrusion and hatred, but, at the same time, it was a necessary storm: it allowed Miley to orient herself and pursue a path she felt genuinely confident about.

While Dolly didn’t necessarily endorse every single decision of Miley’s, she certainly respected them, generational differences be damned. “She doesn’t have to be so drastic,” wrote the "Jolene" singer in a TIME tribute to Miley. “But I will respect her choices.”

RELATED: Dolly Parton’s Unusual Life Defies Everyone’s Expectations

Today, Miley couldn’t be more appreciative of the influence Dolly has had on her journey, from introducing her to the heart and soul of the country genre to holding her hand through her troubled teenage years. “There’s a theory that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but I wish everyone had the chance to meet Dolly Parton, because she’s even better than your sparkliest dreams,” wrote Miley in a reverse TIME tribute a few years after that of her own. 

Dolly is not only my idol because of her incomparable career—she’s also my role model because of her steadfast morals and values. At her core, she is the definition of a humanitarian.

Miley Cyrus to TIME

What’s so heartwarming about their relationship is that it’s clear they’re both quite different, at least from an artistic and psychological perspective, but it doesn’t hold them back in any way.

Dolly understands the responsibilities of being a godmother: you don’t just show up at the behest of mom or dad, you have to put in the work to love and understand and empathize with your godchild, no matter what they’re going through.

Miley’s controversial dance paid off in the end, catapulting her from the manufactured depths of the Disney corporate machine into the upper echelons of mainstream success. However, her continued survival in the business is a result of people like Dolly, who vouched and treasured and cherished her in her darkest time. 

What Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus's Bond Tells Us About Acceptance

Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus on Hannah Montana

You can't go through life worrying about how others are perceiving you, even though the response is automatic to an extent. You'll have to make the drastic choices that nobody expects out of you.

Some will steer clear, and some will accept; it's in the wake of these extreme decisions that we identify who matters to us. It's all too easy to go with the flow and point the finger at Miley, but Dolly stuck to her gut and knew she had to prioritize her godmother duties over all else.

It's this steadfast commitment and sense of responsibility that solidifies her status as one of the most generous, selfless women in the world.

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