Elle King shares what Dolly Parton told her after controversial tribute performance

Elle King says she's "mortified" about how she behaved onstage during a Dolly Parton tribute performance in January.

The 34-year-old singer opened up about her controversial performance — and the backlash it caused among country music fans — during an appearance May 16 on the "Dear Chelsea" podcast with host Chelsea Handler.

The commotion began when King attempted to sing Parton’s song “Marry Me” at the Grand Ole Opry on Jan. 19 at a celebration honoring Parton’s 78th birthday. King appeared to be inebriated during the performance and said at one point, “I’m f------ hammered.”

“I did a big no-no. I not only cussed onstage, hammered, at the Grand Ole Opry, but it was Dolly Parton’s birthday and the Opry was doing a Dolly Parton tribute," King told Handler.

The "Ex's and Oh's" singer said she had refrained from speaking about the incident until now because she needed "to just chill," calling the experience "a big deal."

King explained that she'd been "going through something very heavy and traumatic" around the time of the performance. Parton's birthday tribute concert happened to land on "a really big day dealing with what I was going through — and that I’m still going through — and I suffer from, like, severe PTSD," she said.

King hadn't eaten or slept in several days and was "really overwhelmed" by the time she walked onstage.

She recalled the tribute's headlining performer "backed out" of the concert that day because of a snowstorm. The show's promoters than tapped King to be the new headliner and to sing "Jolene."

King took on the challenge and said an initial performance went well, but she made the mistake of drinking prior to her subsequent performance.

"I take one shot too many and I’m just not there in my body. I’m not there. I don’t remember it. I don't even remember what I said,” explained King. “I know now what I said. I said, ‘I’m Elle King, and I’m f------ hammered.' And I got the curtain dropped on me."

"I was totally, 100% disassociated and I just cut to the dressing room, me on the floor just, like, sobbing, like, ‘What have I done?’ And then the next day it was, like, everywhere. Everywhere," she recalled.

“I was mortified,” she continued. “I handwrote an apology letter to the Opry and I handwrote an apology letter to Dolly.”

Parton, who King said is "proof that angels exist," called the singer to tell her she wasn't upset. “She just gave me really kind words and told me, ‘Well, Dolly’s not mad at you, why should the world be?'" recalled King.

King added that she will never forget Parton's kindness, noting that prior to hearing back from the "9 to 5" icon, she "wanted to f------ die.”

King told Handler that she regrets that she allowed herself to drink before performing at the Grand Ole Opry. “This is, like, a sacred stage and I f----- up,” she said.

“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," she added.

Following the fiasco at the Parton tribute, King postponed a string of live performances. In an Instagram post March 10, King addressed the controversy and confirmed that she had "already talked to Dolly."

"To everyone sending me love because I'm human and already talked to Dolly, I love you," King wrote over a video of herself exercising.

"To everyone who told me to k*ll myself, I love you too," she added, addressing the hate she received in the wake of the performance.

"Oh no was my human showing," she captioned the post, adding the hashtag #WWDD, which likely stands for, "What would Dolly do?"

King's post came several weeks after Parton publicly revealed that she had no hard feelings about the performance, telling "Extra," "Let’s just forgive that and forget it and move on, ‘cause she felt worse than anyone ever could."

Here’s everything you need to know about the concert’s controversy.

Who is Elle King?

Elle King, 34, is a Grammy award-nominated singer who made a splash with her 2014 debut hit "Ex's & Ohs."

She scored a #1 hit on the Billboard Country Airplay chart with her 2021 duet with Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).” Her most recent album is “Come Get Your Wife,” released in January 2023.

King is the daughter of actor and comedian Rob Schneider.

King got engaged to tattoo artist Dan Tooker in 2020, per an Instagram announcement. After suffering from two pregnancy losses, the couple welcomed their son Lucky Levi in September 2021.

What exactly happened at the Dolly Parton tribute concert?

The concert at the iconic Nashville, Tennessee, venue was meant to be a celebration of Parton’s music for the legend’s 78th birthday and took place on Jan. 19.

King appeared to be inebriated and swore onstage frequently throughout her performance, contrasting with the Opry’s traditionally family-friendly fare.

A video of her onstage was shared by Country Central on TikTok. In the clip, King admitted to being intoxicated and fumbled the lyrics as she performed Parton’s song “Marry Me.”

"This is fast. This s--- is f---ing fast. How'd Dolly sing this s---?" King said onstage.

She seemed to improvise her own lyrics to the song during the performance.

“I don’t know the lyrics to these things in this f---ing town. Don’t tell Dolly ‘cause it’s her birthday," King sang.

"Everyone's like, holy s---, we bought tickets for this s---?" King quipped. "I'm not even going to f---ing lie, y'all bought tickets for this s---? You ain't getting your money back."

In another video taken by an audience member, King declared, “I’ll tell you one thing more: Hi, my name is Elle King, and I’m f---ing hammered.”

King has spoken about drinking at concerts

King has been open about her substance use in interviews.

In 2020, King reflected on her partying days in an interview with Variety, sharing that her "definition of partying has changed."

"If I think about partying really really hard, I didn’t realize I was hurting," she said. "I respect people more when they’re open and honest. I had a duty and a platform to share and be open."

King revealed in a 2022 interview that she frequently has a drink before performing to quell her nerves.

“It’s easier for me to say: ‘Yeah, I want to drink and party and (then) go on stage,'" King said. "I get nervous before I go on stage, (so) I have couple of drinks (first). Drinking makes me less nervous about hitting the notes when I sing. If I don’t make them, it won’t sting as much."

Though she admitted that the music she created when she was "stone cold sober" is her favorite, King acknowledged that she still enjoys an onstage drink.

"I really like to drink and sing," she said.

How did fans respond?

King's behavior shocked country fans, many of whom felt that the performance disrespected Parton.

"elle king. how disrespectful. not only to dolly, but to every single person who has walked on that stage. i seriously cannot even believe it," an X user wrote.

Several attendees expressed their disappointment on social media.

"I wish she would’ve been there because Elle King ruined the night with her horrible, drunk, and profane performance. Dolly Parton would’ve been mortified. For our first time at The Opry, it was a shame we all had to witness that," X user Judas Belmont posted.

The Opry replied to the post with an apology.

"Hi Judas, we deeply regret and apologize for the language that was used during last night’s second Opry performance," the venue responded on X.

Following the incident, several of King's concerts were rescheduled.

Her Fort Worth, Texas, concert — originally scheduled for Jan. 26 — was rescheduled for seven months down the line. The venue, Billy Bob’s Texas, was not reachable for comment regarding the cancellation at the time.

Users on Instagram had plenty to say in the comments section of the Billy Bob’s Texas post and speculated on the cancellation’s potential connection to her performance at the Grand Ole Opry.

“That Dolly Parton event is sending ripples,” one user commented.

“Yeah, you can’t disrespect Dolly and then come here,” another commented. “Texas ain’t Tennessee.”

On Jan. 25, King’s official Instagram page announced rescheduled dates for four more shows in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, originally marked for February.

King returned to the stage on March 1 to perform at the Extra Innings Festival in Tempe, Arizona.

2024 Extra Innings Festival (John Medina / Getty Images)
2024 Extra Innings Festival (John Medina / Getty Images)

How did Dolly Parton react?

Parton, who did not attend the concert, did not immediately commented on King's performance.

It wasn’t until "Extra" published an interview with Parton on Feb. 9 that the singer broke her silence on King’s performance.

“Elle is really a great artist,” Parton said. “She’s a great girl, and she’s been going through a lot of hard things lately.”

“She just had a little too much to drink, so let’s just forgive that and forget it and move on, ‘cause she felt worse than anyone ever could,” Parton said.

Parton's sister, Stella, weighed in on the controversy shortly after the performance. She posted a series of tweets on X on Jan. 21.

"I didn’t see nor hear the Grand Ole Opry birthday tribute to my big sister Dolly over the weekend. But some lil girl by the name of Elle King apparently cussed and insulted some of Dolly’s fans by not knowing a song. She did admit to being 'hammered' her word not mine," Stella Parton wrote.

Stella Parton also pointed out a perceived double standard for female singers at the Opry.

"But let me just say this, it wouldn’t be the first time a Hillbilly went on the stage of the Opry 'hammered,' but I guess it’s OK if you’re a male. But good lord don’t ever let a girl behave that way folks! Double f------ standard if ya ask me. So the Opry is apologizing! Lol," she wrote.

King is far from the first performer to cause a stir at the Opry.

Country legend Johnny Cash was temporarily barred from performing at the Opry after an onstage drunken rampage in 1965, though he was allowed to return several years later.

Rocker Jerry Lee Lewis played at the Opry only once, after breaking two of its rules at his 1973 debut: No cursing and no rock ‘n’ roll.

Stella Parton concluded her statement with a compliment to her superstar sister.

"To any lil ego thinking they can learn the lyrics correctly with a half assed listen to one of Dolly’s song. Surprise! You’ll end up looking as silly as that lil girl. Do your homework people. Memorize the lyrics to Jolene or (Coat of Many Colors). My sister loves words. A brilliant word smith."

King revealed she was going through a 'traumatic' experience at the time of the performance

In May 2024, King opened up about her onstage behavior at the Parton tribute while speaking to comedian Chelsea Handler on the “Dear Chelsea” podcast.

King said she was "mortified" by the performance on the Grand Ole Opry's "sacred stage" and "handwrote an apology letter" both to the Opry and to Parton.

King explained that she had been "overwhelmed" in her personal life at the time because she had been “going through something very heavy and traumatic” and hadn’t eaten or slept in days.

King added that Parton called her and put her mind at ease. "She just gave me really kind words and told me, ‘Well, Dolly’s not mad at you, why should the world be?’” the singer recalled.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com