‘What? Did you say $100 million?’ Jeff Bezos honors Dolly Parton with massive grant

A woman in a tight, ornate black dress struts onto a stage while waving and holding a guitar
Inductee Dolly Parton performs at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony earlier this month in L.A.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision/Associated Press)

Dolly Parton just got $100 million of Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez’s money to steer to the charitable organizations of her choice — including her own foundation.

The “9 to 5” singer joins the ranks of chef José Andrés and political commentator Van Jones, who last year were the inaugural recipients of the Bezos Family Foundation’s Courage and Civility Award.

For the record:

5:12 p.m. Nov. 29, 2022This story refers to Lauren Sanchez as Jeff Bezos’ wife. They are not married.

“The woman you’re about to meet embodies these ideals so thoroughly,” Bezos said Saturday at an event as he and wife Sanchez introduced Parton to those who were assembled. “She gives with her heart. What she’s done for kids and literacy and so many other things, it’s just incredible.”


“What? Did you say $100 million?,” Parton said with a laugh. Then she turned serious.

“When people are in a position to help, you should help. And I know that I’ve always said, I try to put my money where my heart is, and I think you do the same thing,” she said, referring to Bezos. “I will do my best to do good things with this money. Thank you, Jeff.”

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Sanchez said the award “recognizes leaders who aim high, find solutions and who always do it with civility.”

Parton famously donated $1 million in 2020 to the effort that resulted in the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19, giving the money to Vanderbilt University’s vaccine research fund.

“I’m just happy that anything I do can help somebody else, and when I donated the money to the COVID fund, I just wanted it to do good, and evidently it is,” a surprised Parton told the “Today” show two years ago after learning what her money had helped create. “Let’s just hope we find a cure real soon.”

But that is only the tip of Parton’s philanthropic iceberg, which has been building for decades.

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Her Dollywood Foundation — established in 1988 with a goal of helping children in Sevier County, Tenn., achieve educational success — morphed into her Imagination Library by 1995. The program, inspired by Parton’s father, who couldn’t read, sends children a book a month, free of charge, from birth until their first year of school. It started out focusing on Sevier County kids and has grown to target children in the U.S., Canada, U.K., the Republic of Ireland and Australia, sending out more than a million books each month.

She also has distributed numerous scholarships to Sevier County students and established the Chasing Rainbows Award to recognize a teacher each year who has overcome personal difficulties in life and now makes a difference in children’s lives. Each teacher gets a week of vacation at Parton’s Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

In 2007, Parton donated $500,000 from a benefit concert and, through two of her companies, pledged another $500,000 that went toward building a new hospital and cancer center in her home county. The LeConte Medical Center, which named its women’s health operation after Parton, opened in 2010.

In 2016 she participated in two telethons to help families who lost their homes to wildfires that ripped through the Great Smoky Mountains, ultimately giving $10,000 each to about 900 displaced families through the Dollywood Foundation’s My People Fund.

In 2017, she gave a million bucks to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, and a year later she established a butterfly garden at the hospital in honor of a niece who was successfully treated for leukemia at the hospital in 1990.

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Parton even established a sanctuary for bald eagles at her Dollywood theme park.

“Jeff and I are so proud to share that we have a new Bezos Courage and Civility Award winner — a woman who gives with her heart and leads with love and compassion in every aspect of her work,” Sanchez wrote Saturday on Instagram. “We can’t wait to see all the good that you’re going to do with this $100 million award, @DollyParton.”

Winners of the award are free to do what they wish with the “no strings attached” money, whether that’s giving it all to their own foundations or passing it along to other charities, Bezos said previously.