Dolly Parton’s hit song “I Will Always Love You” is arguably her most popular tune ever. Most fans know by now that it was inspired by Parton’s relationship with her mentor, Porter Wagoner, as a promise to him that she would always love and appreciate what he did for her before branching off on her own. It’s also famous for being covered by Whitney Houston in 1992 to accompany her film debut in The Bodyguard. Nearly 20 years before Houston, however, another megastar lost the chance to record his own version of the song: Elvis Presley.
That’s right, shortly after its release and rise up the charts in 1974, Presley reached out to Parton about tackling the tune himself. The country queen couldn’t have been more thrilled that the King wanted to sing her song. Parton revealed in a 2006 interview with CMT that she pretty much immediately started bragging about the huge honor, saying she told Presley and his team, “You cannot imagine how excited I am about this. This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me as a songwriter.” So why haven’t we all been listening to what would surely be an incredible version of the classic song with Presley’s smooth vocals? Because she ultimately had to turn him down.
Parton explained how upset she was about the situation, saying, “I cried all night. I mean, it was like the worst thing." She also admitted she was reluctant to tell the story to anyone because of what a beloved icon Presley was and remains to this day. As she tells it, Parton arrived at the studio where Presley was set to record his version of “I Will Always Love You” when Colonel Parker, Presley’s notoriously stern manager, informed her of one caveat. Apparently, it was a rule for Presley to not record anything that he didn’t have at least half of the publishing rights for, something Parton would have to relinquish in order for him to record the cover.
Even though she was still in the early days of her success, a little voice inside her told Parton not to make the deal. “This is the stuff I’m leaving for my family when I’m dead and gone,” she reasoned. “That money goes in for stuff for my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews.” People of course told her she was crazy for not going through with it — but she stuck to her guns, no matter how much it broke her heart at the same time. Parton told CMT that she knew “he would have killed it,” and joked about how Houston’s version “made enough money to buy Graceland,” so she doesn’t regret the decision too much.