Why Dolly Parton and Husband Carl Dean Keep Their Marriage Out of the Limelight

Carl did NOT want to be a "Hollywood husband."

  • Dolly Parton, 73, and Carl Dean, 76, met when the "Jolene" singer was 18.
  • They married in 1966 in a private ceremony that only Dolly's mother attended.
  • Carl is notoriously private and has only appeared in public with Dolly a handful of times.
  • Dolly admitted to having an emotional affair in the past, but the two relied on their faith to get through the tough time.
  • They will celebrate their 53rd anniversary in 2019.

    The day after her high-school graduation, Dolly Parton packed her bags and left her home in Sevierville, Tennessee, for the bright lights of Nashville, about 200 miles west. She'd had her first taste of success five years earlier when, at 13, a small record label in Louisiana produced her first single, "Puppy Love."

    The record "wasn't good at all," Dolly told the in 2006, but it was a start, enough encouragement that the platinum-blonde singer "never thought of being anything other than a star," and made no backup plan.

    On that first day in Music City, 18-year-old Dolly was doing her laundry at the Wishy Washy laundromat when Carl Dean, 21, drove by in his white Chevy pickup truck. He stopped to she was going to get sunburned in her revealing outfit, then chatted her up as she went indoors to fold her clothes.

    Dean and Dolly Parton on their wedding day, May 30, 1966.
    Dean and Parton on their wedding day, May 30, 1966.
    Courtesy of Dolly Parton/dollyparton.com

    "My first thought was I'm gonna marry that girl," Carl said in a for the couple's 50th wedding anniversary last year. "My second thought was, 'Lord she's good lookin'. And that was the day my life began. I wouldn't trade the last 50 years for nothing on this earth."

    Dolly was "surprised and delighted" that this tall, handsome man looked at her face when they were talking—"a rare thing for me," she said—and "seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out who I was and what I was about."

    The pair began dating, and Dolly signed with Monument Records shortly after. Dolly's love life and career were on the fast track. When Carl and Dolly got engaged, Carl's mother was excited to plan a big wedding, because her only daughter had eloped, Dolly . Sadly, the ceremony of the bride's (and mother-in-law's) dreams was not to be.

    "Everyone at my label had invested money in me and in building my career, so they asked me if I'd wait a year to get married," Dolly recalled. "And I didn't want to not do what I was supposed to do. Carl's mother was just heartbroken."

    Dolly Parton and Carl Dean
    Courtesy of Dolly Parton/dollyparton.com

    Two years after they first met, Dolly, 20, and Carl, 23, tied the knot in a clandestine ceremony in Ringgold, Georgia, roughly 150 miles southeast of Nashville, on Memorial Day 1966. They chose to go out of town so Tennessee newspapers wouldn't report on the nuptials. The only witnesses were Dolly's mother, Avie Lee, and the preacher and his wife.

    "My mother made me a little white dress and a little bouquet," Dolly told CMT. "But I said, 'I can't get married in a courthouse because I'll never feel married.' So we found a little Baptist church in town, and went up to Pastor Don Duvall and said, 'Would you marry us?' We got pictures on the steps right outside the church."

    Even before Dolly reached stardom, it became clear that her husband had no interest in the entertainment industry. , after joining her on the red carpet for an industry event in 1966, Carl said on the drive home, "Dolly, I want you to have everything you want, and I'm happy for you, but don't you ever ask me to go to another one of them dang things again!"

    Dolly Parton and Carl Dean
    Courtesy of Dolly Parton/dollyparton.com

    Dolly's big break came the following year with her first full-length album, Hello, I'm Dolly. She also joined the nationally syndicated Porter Wagoner Show in 1967, and for the next seven years, 45 million people tuned in each week to watch her perform.

    In the five decades they've been married, the notoriously private Carl has only appeared with Dolly in public a handful of times. Their respective independence is one of the secrets to their long-lasting union, Dolly has said. "You can't be in each other's face all the time," she told . "Actually, I think that has been the best formula for us, the fact that we appreciate each other when we are together. We don't have to be together all the time."

    That's not to say the fiercely independent Dolly isn't without insecurities. She famously wrote the hit single "Jolene" after a redheaded bank teller took interest in Carl. "She got this terrible crush on my husband," Dolly . "It was kinda like a running joke between us—when I was saying, 'Hell, you're spending a lot of time at the bank. I don't believe we've got that kind of money.'"

    The bank employee, Dolly believed, had everything she didn't, "like legs—you know, she was about 6 feet tall. And had all that stuff that some little short, sawed-off honky like me don't have."

    Dolly Parton and Carl Dean
    dollyparton.com

    The Backwoods Barbie has copped to being a "flirt and a tease," herself, though she's also said she has never met a man who could take Carl's place. She admitted once to having an "affair of the heart," but she credited her faith for getting her through that dark time.

    Though the pair have never had children of their own, they are both committed to helping support Dolly's large family and have worked with many children through her charity. But they enjoy their downtime, too.

    When they are together, Dolly and Carl, who's retired from the asphalt-paving business, like to and "just be simple." They've even been known to hit up the Taco Bell drive-thru in their camper on date nights. "I love to read, I love to cook, I love to be with my husband. I put on my little comfy clothes—I call them my baby clothes—and we just relax," Dolly said.

    What does Dolly love most about the man she calls her complete opposite, the inspiration behind, ""? "He's a deep person, but he has a great and warped sense of humor," has said. "He makes me laugh and entertains me. He's very secure within himself."

    For their 50th wedding anniversary, Dolly talked Carl into having a big blowout ceremony in Nashville—something she said he only agreed to because they planned to sell photo rights to raise money for charity. Dolly wore a dress by Steve Summers, her longtime costume designer, and the couple spent their second honeymoon in (where else?) their camper, by the lake in Ringgold, Georgia.

    "If I had it to do all over, I'd do it all over again, and we did," Dolly said in a statement. "I'm dragging him kicking and screaming into the next 50 years."

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