Elle King Opens Up About What Happened The Night Of Dolly Parton Tribute

Photo: Getty Images

Elle King opened up about her tribute to Dolly Parton that sparked backlash on social media and prompted an apology from the Grand Ole Opry.

King performed during the Opry Goes Dolly lineup for Parton’s 78th birthday on January 19. The Grand Ole Opry hosted two shows that night at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Downtown Nashville, Tennessee. King appeared to forget the lyrics when she covered Parton’s “Marry Me,” and used profanity — including stating that she was “f***ing hammered,” while appearing drunk — in front of the audience. The Opry later responded to an upset concertgoer on X, formerly Twitter: “...we deeply regret and apologize for the language that was used during last night’s second Opry performance.”

“This is my first time actually talking about it,” King said as she shared her story on the latest episode of Dear Chelsea, a weekly podcast hosted by comedian Chelsea Handler (warning: language). King explained that she hasn’t shared an in-depth account of that night yet because she “had to chill” after the tribute. “It was a big deal.”

“I had been going through something very heavy and traumatic in my life at that time, and that day was a really big day dealing with what I was going through, and that I’m still going through and I suffer from severe PTSD,” King said. “That day, I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t slept in days, and I was really overwhelmed. I was like a shell of myself.”

King said she got the call about performing that day, when “a big snowstorm” hit Nashville and the previous headliner dropped out of the show hours before. King said the “first show (was) f***ing perfect. (Then), I take one shot too many and I’m just not there in my body. I’m not there. I don’t remember it. All I remember — I don’t end know what I said. I know now what I said. I said, ‘I’m Elle King and I’m f***ing hammered,’ and I got the curtain dropped on me, and then I just get flashes of this and I was totally 100% disassociated and I just cut to the dressing room, me on the floor, just sobbing, like ‘what have I done?’

“The next day it was everywhere. Everywhere. And I was mortified,” she continued. “And I hand wrote an apology letter to the Opry, and I hand wrote an apology letter to Dolly, and Dolly called me a couple days later, and she’s just like, literally, she’s like proof that angels exist. She just gave me really kind words and told me, ‘well, Dolly’s not mad at you. Why should the world be?’ And (she) made me laugh and that’s the kindness from women, you know, that’s the stuff that I’ve received that I’ll never forget, ever. Because I wanted to f***ing die, and I don’t know, I had to remove myself from the population for a while because it just wasn’t getting any better. …Regardless of what I was doing in my life and what was happening to me, I don’t feel like I owe to anybody in the f***ing world to try and explain. and I also don’t think that it does excuse the fact that maybe I shouldn’t have f***ing been drinking. You know, this is like a sacred stage, and I f***ed up. And so, for all the people who are asking for an apology from me, hey, if you were there that night and I didn’t get a chance to say I’m sorry to you, I apologize.”

King said she received hateful messages online about the performance, including from many who hadn’t attended the show. “Dolly even said it, no one is going to be harder on me than me. I was very, very hard on myself, and I’m mortified.” Parton previously shared her response to King’s performance in an interview with Extra: “Elle is really a great artist. She’s a great girl, and she’s been going through a lot of hard things lately. And she just had a little too much to drink. So, let’s just forgive that and forget it and move on because she felt worse than anybody ever could.”

Looking ahead, King said she hopes to become a strong person after making some changes in her life.

“That was me hitting a massive brick wall, and I made changes in my life and I feel like I’m becoming a stronger person because of it, and I’m grateful for it,” King said. “But at the same time, I can find a silver lining in literally anything, and I’m gonna choose to use this as a tool to not defeat me, but to make me hopefully a better person, and I can learn from my mistakes. Now, I don’t drink before I go up and sing. And they’re the best shows I’ve ever played. And I’m proud to say that.”