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Knoxville-born actress Dale Dickey—who has been called “the reigning queen of Southern gothic”— will return to UT on Friday, December 11, to receive an honorary degree and address new graduates.

Commencement ceremonies begin at 9:00 a.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena. More than 2,300 students are graduating this fall—1,795 undergraduates, 559 graduate students, and seven law students.

Dale Dickey

Dickey will receive an honorary Master of Fine Arts, the highest degree awarded in that discipline.

“Receiving an honorary degree is somewhat overwhelming,” said Dickey, who has been connected to UT most of her life.

Dickey graduated from Bearden High School and attended UT from 1979 to 1984.

“I grew up doing plays with the university, beginning in 1971, and I did over twenty productions before I was actually in college. It was a very long history at a formative time in my life,” she said. “I never would have found or continued with this career without all of those invaluable years spent working with so many tremendous peers and professors. It began the path I’ve chosen for the rest of my life.”

Dickey’s father, David Dale Dickey, is a UT graduate. Her mother, Missy Bradley Dickey, attended UT and grew up in a house on Terrace Avenue, a street adjacent to the campus. Her parents, brother, and cousins still live in Knoxville.

Dickey said she’s found her niche in playing downtrodden, other-side-of-the-law types, including the homeless, addicts, and prisoners.

Dickey received high acclaim for her role in the Oscar-nominated movie, Winter’s Bone. She won an Independent Spirit Award for best supporting female for her portrayal of Merab. Her other movies include the The Pledge, Being Flynn, Iron Man 3, and several long-running television series including My Name is Earl, True Blood, Breaking Bad, and Christy.

“Ms. Dickey has always claimed the University of Tennessee in her biography, and has made a long practice of returning to work with our students when her busy career allows her,” Cal MacLean, head of the Department of Theatre, wrote in nominating Dickey for the honor.

Even after finding success in Hollywood, Dickey has returned to Clarence Brown Theatre on multiple occasions to work with students and star in several productions, including Steel Magnolias (1990), Our Country’s Good (1994), The Rainmaker (2001), and A Streetcar Named Desire (2009). She may be the only actor to have played the same role in two Clarence Brown productions 29 years apart; she played Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd in 1983 and 2012.

In 2010, UT honored her with a Accomplished Alumna Award in recognition of her contributions to her profession and service to her alma mater.

“Ms. Dickey is a remarkable asset to the university and to the Department of Theatre,” MacLean wrote. “The importance of our relationships with working professional actors, directors, and designers cannot be overstated; they are essential to our mission. That one of our alums is not only ‘the real deal’ in our profession, but is also such an outstanding mentor and role model to our students, makes her an asset of incalculable value.”

MacLean described Dickey’s teaching, which he witnessed during rehearsals of Streetcar and Sweeney Todd productions.

“Her impact cannot be overstated. Everyone in our department—students and faculty—wants to work sometime with Dale Dickey,” he said

Dickey and her husband live in Los Angeles, but she hopes they can return to live in the South someday.

“I’m going to go hit Dolly Parton up for a job at Dollywood,” she joked in an interview with Garden and Gun magazine. “I can be the old Appalachian woman without Botox. I can sing and I can churn butter.”

Despite her vast experience acting on the stage and screen, Dickey admits the invitation to speak at commencement is a bit daunting.

“I’m terrified of doing this commencement speech. Plainly. But then, that’s one reason why I have to do it,” said. “This is unchartered water. Big waters. I guess I’m just going to dive in and swim hard and keep breathing.”

Dickey said she’s working on the speech now, jotting down thoughts as they come to her.

“I do want to say something meaningful and to truly celebrate the students graduating and their dreams and hopes,” she said. “But don’t expect Hollywood, ’cause you can’t take the East Tennessee out of this girl.”

MEDIA AVAILABILITY: Dale Dickey will be available to chat briefly with the media at 8:30 a.m., prior to commencement. If you plan to attend, contact Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, for more information.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,