Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The New York Times reports on Dolly Parton's fans' unusual devotion:

Another fan who's known by Ms. Parton and her people is David Schmidli, 33, of Huntsville, Ala. For Mr. Schmidli, who has cerebral palsy, Ms. Parton is quite literally the alpha and omega: his mother, Jo-Ann, 72, teaches him to spell by using words drawn from Ms. Parton's song titles and lyrics. Each day he awakens at 3:30 a.m. to scour the Web for news of Ms. Parton, then feeds his German Shepherd, named Sparkles Dolly Parton, before going to his job as a tester at a computer manufacturing facility. During the holidays, he invites his co-workers home to show them his Christmas tree covered with 400 homemade ornaments, each decorated with Ms. Parton's picture.

Mr. Schmidli also sharpens his dexterity by making needlepoint tissue box covers and fly swatter covers bearing Ms. Parton's image (with angel wings). When he presents these items to her each April at the park's opening day, Mrs. Schmidli says, "She's as kind and as good as she can be."

"She looks down from on high on her float," Mrs. Schmidli said, "and she says, 'I love you, too, David.' "

On which the best comment comes perhaps from Dolly herself:

"A lot of times my fans don't come to see me be me," she said. "They come to see me be them. They come to hear me say what they want to hear, what they'd like to say themselves, or to say about them what they want to believe is true."

Ms. Parton evaluated these illusions in terms that were by turns critical, empathic and pragmatic: "I've often wondered if it's healthy for some of these people to depend on me that much, to where people live through you and don't live their own lives. It's like when people say, `I'm in love,' when they're really in lust. They call so many things love. I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like that in the wee hours. But I think it's healthier for those people to have something to look forward to than to not. If they've got a show to look forward to or a record to look forward to, it might keep them from doing something bad to themselves or to somebody else. Or give 'em something more to do than just dwelling on themselves so much. I don't know. I just know I love the fans. I appreciate 'em. I love what I do. So I guess we'll all be at it for a long time to come."


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