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Wait, ‘I Will Always Love You’ was written about what?

It wasn’t the breakup you were imagining

Country singer Dolly Parton and her collaborator Porter Wagoner perform onstage in circa 1967.
Country singer Dolly Parton and her collaborator Porter Wagoner perform onstage in circa 1967.

Arguably one of the most famous of love songs, “I Will Always Love You” doesn’t have the back story you might have imagined it did.

Plenty of people know the song by Whitney Houston (play it below), who recorded a version for the movie “The Bodyguard.”

For those who don’t already know, the song was first written and recorded in 1974 by Dolly Parton, who is known for the popular “Jolene,” among handfuls of other hits over the years.

What most people probably aren’t aware of is what the song was actually written about.

Parton was in a working relationship with singer Porter Wagoner until 1973. For five years, she starred alongside him on his TV show, “The Porter Wagoner Show,” and with great success.

When Parton decided to go, she and Wagoner butted heads over whether it was the right decision.

“There was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn’t listening to my reasoning for my going,” Parton told CMT in a 2011 interview. "I thought, 'Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you just write this song?’”

So she went home and “out of a very emotional place,” wrote the song “I Will Always Love You.”

She went to Wagoner the next day and sang the song for him.

"He was crying. He said, ’That’s the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.’ And he did, and the rest is history,” Parton said.

She went on to record her next album, which featured “I Will Always Love You.” It became a multiple-time No. 1 hit.

Parton later said the song represented her desire to convey to Wagoner that she cared about him and appreciated him, but that it was time to leave.

“It’s saying, ‘Just because I’m going don’t mean I won’t love you,'” she told CMT. “'I appreciate you and I hope you do great and I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I’m out of here.’”

After Houston’s success with her version, Parton said, "The effect that it had on the whole world was amazing. It’s been one of the biggest songs ever.”

As much as we’d love to pick a favorite, we just can’t. Each version is so beautiful. Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comment section below.


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