Dolly Parton Isn't Afraid of Aging and Hopes to 'Fall Dead in the Middle of a Song' on Stage

"There's a whole lot to be said for loving your work and having confidence in yourself," says Parton

Dolly Parton has never considered retiring — not once.

Sitting down with PEOPLE exclusively for its latest cover story, the country legend got candid about getting older, hitting milestones and never slowing down.

“It’ll happen when it happens. That’s how I feel,” says the “Jolene” singer, 72, about getting older and wiser. “I am grateful that I am still here. So many people have more talent than I’ve ever dreamed of having that never get to see dreams come true.”

Though she’s had plenty of hit albums, movies, TV shows and much more, Parton says she’s never had a real bucket list. Still, there is one trip she would love to take.

Dolly Parton People cover

For much more on Dolly Parton’s fascinating life, long-lasting marriage and plans for the future, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Wednesday.

“I’ve never been to the Holy Land,” says the star, who recorded six new songs for the soundtrack of Netflix’s upcoming film Dumplin’, which tells the story of an overweight teenage girl inspired by Parton. “I wanted to always take my mom and grandpa, who was a preacher, and I couldn’t afford it. They’re not here now, but that’s something I’d like to do.”

Otherwise, the entertainer — who wakes up at 3 a.m. every day — just chooses to remain thankful for everything she has in her life and is continuing to keep her plate very full.

“There’s a whole lot to be said for loving your work and having confidence in yourself,” says Parton. “I never once thought of retiring.”

ROLLOUT Dolly Parton RetouchedCredit: Art Streiber
Art Streiber

The one thing that would cause the star to slow down was if her husband of 52 years, Carl Thomas Dean, needed her by his side.

“If my husband needed me, or someone in my family, I would put him first,” she says about her longtime love. “I’ve always put myself first and my career first, but if something were to happen to him, I would pull back on that.”

Even so, Parton — who is being honored next year as MusiCares’ 2019 Person of the Year — would still find a creative outlet. “I’d still find a way to work, still find a way to be productive,” she says. “I just hope I fall dead in the middle of a song, hopefully one I wrote, right on stage. That’s the way I go!”

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