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Elle King Recalls ‘Heavy and Traumatic’ Day Before Drunk Dolly Parton Tribute Performance

Elle King offered the most detailed account of her disastrous performance at the Grand Ole Opry’s Dolly Parton tribute show earlier this year — and the incredible kindness Parton showed her afterward — on Chelsea Handler’s Dear Chelsea podcast. 

As King herself acknowledged, she committed a “big no-no” at the January concert: She “cussed on stage, hammered” at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and appeared to forget the lyrics to Parton’s song “Marry Me.” While King released a short statement about the matter on Instagram back in March, she noted to Handler that she hadn’t really spoken about it publicly because she had to take time and “just chill.” 

As King explained, she’d gotten the call to perform at the Parton tribute last minute after the scheduled headliner dropped out because of a snowstorm. While she accepted the gig, she said that day had already been difficult. 

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

The Parton tribute consisted of an early show and a late show, and King said her performance of “Jolene” at the first gig was “fucking perfect.” But after that, she took “one shot too many” and suddenly found herself outside her own body. She said she barely remembered the performance, let alone what she said on stage at the time.

“I know now what I said,” King continued. “I said, ‘I’m Elle King and I’m fucking hammered.’ And I got the curtain dropped on me — I just get flashes of this. And then I was totally, 100 percent disassociated. I just cut to the dressing room, me just on the floor sobbing, ‘What have I done?’ And then the next day it was everywhere.”

King said she was “mortified” after the performance and that she hand-wrote apologies to both the Grand Ole Opry and Parton. She said Parton called her a few days later, adding of the country legend: “She’s just 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 made me laugh. That’s the kindness from women. That’s the stuff that I’ve received that I’ll never forget, ever, because I wanted to fucking die. I had to remove myself from the population for a while because it wasn’t getting any better.”

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Reflecting on the incident, King was adamant that she didn’t feel obligated to explain what was going on in her life that day but stated firmly: “I also don’t think that it does excuse the fact that, maybe I shouldn’t have been fucking drinking. This is a sacred stage, and I fucked up.”

King ended by noting her ability to “find a silver lining in anything” and that she’s used this experience “as a tool to not defeat me, but to make me hopefully a better person.” She said she no longer drinks before going up on stage, adding, “And they’re the best shows I’ve ever played, and I’m proud to say that.” 

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