The Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with the Congressional Gold Medal, enjoy the distinction of being the highest civilian awards in the United States. It is one of those awards where the recipient makes total sense, immediately eliciting an “It’s about time” response rather than an incredulous “Who?” So, when Dolly Parton refused the Presidential Medal of Freedom two times, it simply reaffirmed her as a level-headed person of influence who is acutely aware of her cultural importance (and as someone who uses her clout to better the world). And it also confirmed her as a person who is absolutely deserving of the award.
The acclaimed singer/songwriter told The Today Show on Monday that she turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice, and for some personal reasons that actually didn’t involve former President Donald Trump (despite how it initially seemed).
Of her decision, she said:
I couldn’t accept it because my husband was ill and then they asked me again about it and I wouldn’t travel because of the COVID.
When approached by the fledgling Biden administration, Dolly Parton wisely declined again, mainly because she wanted to avoid making a political statement. She definitely shares Kurt Russell’s views on whether or not actors should get political, and her reasons seem pretty solid. I agree more with her reasons than his, especially because hers seem to be more about circumstance than rigidity. There is merit in picking a side, and there is also value in staying informed but refusing to get involved in something that may take your audience out of your performance. I can see both sides, and I think Dolly is doing the right thing here.
Other celebrities who have joined Dolly Parton in receiving this award include James Taylor, Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Springsteen, Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, Fred Rogers, Muhammad Ali, and Diana Ross. Not exactly small-timers. It is a prestigious award, one that recipients earn by helping shape the culture of the United States in a big way. And it is safe to say that everyone who has ever been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom has absolutely had a profound impact on our country and our world. Parton is no different, and it was honestly super classy of her to refuse an award she feels would undermine what she’s about. Good on ya, Dolly!
For those who don’t know, the 75-year-old singer released her first album, titled Hello, I’m Dolly, back in the 1960s. Dolly Parton’s subsequent success in the ’70s and ’80s solidified her as a cultural icon who elevates every project or collaboration she joins just by virtue of her being involved. It will be interesting to see if she ever ends up accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She does not really need it. She is doing more than fine without that kind of acknowledgment.
Even though Dolly Parton has decided not to accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it does not seem to have diminished her appeal to fans. Frankly, she might be better off without it.