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Everything Dolly Parton’s said about her decadeslong marriage to Carl Thomas Dean

Despite keeping their relationship out of the limelight, the couple has been together for nearly 60 years.
/ Source: TODAY

Country music legend Dolly Parton has been in the spotlight since the 50's. So it's surprising that the “Jolene” singer’s relationship with her husband, Carl Thomas Dean, has remained out of the limelight.

When Parton was just 13 years old, she sang on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee and her career skyrocketed since. Now at the age of 77, she is a pop culture icon with no shortage of appearances, albums and fame.

Dean, who is from Nashville, is a businessman without any industry ties. In a recent interview for "What Would Dolly Do? Radio," the singer gave insight into her long-standing private relationship.

"Carl has never been in the limelight and all, never wanted to be in it. He don’t like it," said Parton.

She said that after one public outing, he knew that wasn't the life for him.

"He went to one thing with me early on when we first married to a BMI Song of the Year (event), and he came out there taking off his tuxedo, his tie and all that and said, 'Don’t ever ask me to go to another one of these damn things because I ain’t going,'" she said. "I never asked him and he never did."

But despite their different approaches to public life, the two have had a lasting relationship, celebrating 57 years of marriage this past May. Here's a look back at the major events in their relationship, from their first meeting at a laundromat to his support for her music.

Parton and Dean meet in 1964

Many people can live in a city for years before going on a date, but Parton met her husband on her very first day in Nashville. She told the New York Times that she brought a lot of dirty clothes with her, and stopped at the "Wishy-Washy" laundromat.

"After I’d put my clothes in the machine, I started walkin' down the street, just looking at my new home, and this guy hollered at me, and I waved," Parton told the New York Times in 1976. "Bein' from the country, I spoke to everybody. And he came over and, well, it was Carl, my husband.”

Dolly parton smiles as a dark haired main kisses her cheek.
Dolly Parton in a rare photo with her husband, Carl Thomas Dean. dollyparton.com

In that 1976 interview, Parton had more to say about their first meeting.

“I wouldn’t go out with him. I mean, that was somethin' we was taught. You gotta know somebody or they may take you on a back road and kill you. But I said, 'You’re welcome to come up to the house tomorrow because I’m baby‐sittin’ my little nephew.'"

She said he came over every day for a week, and they sat on the porch and talked. "I wouldn’t even take him in the house," she said.

But the first day she didn't have to babysit, she said that Dean took her to meet his parents. "Cause he said he knew right the minute he saw me that that’s the one he wanted.”

A secret 1966 wedding

After dating for about two years, Dean proposed to her and they wed in May of that same year. While preparing for her wedding, the upcoming nuptials caused tension between her and her then-manager, Fred Foster.

“He asked me not to get married. He said it’ll make it so much harder if you’re married with all this promotion," she said in a 2012 interview with Chattanooga, Tennessee, NBC affiliate WRCB.

“My mother-in-law had already sent out invitations,” Parton said. “It broke her heart because I said we had to call the wedding off.”  

But that didn't stop the two from getting married in a more private ceremony the following weekend. Only her mother, Avia Lee Owens, and Pastor Don Duvall and his wife were present at Ringgold Baptist Church where they tied the knot.

Doly Parton and husband Carl Dean
Dolly Parton and husband Carl Thomas Dean on their wedding day on May 30, 1966. TODAY

Parton writes 'Jolene' in 1973

One of her most famous songs, "Jolene" tells the story of a woman begging for Jolene not to "take her man." Parton said this was inspired by a "flirtation" that her husband had with a woman working at the local bank.

“She got this terrible crush on my husband,” Parton told NPR in 2008. “And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. 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.’ So it’s really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one.”

Parton gets close with her bandleader in the 1980s

In a 1986 interview with Ladies' Home Journal, republished in her book, "Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton," the country icon spoke about how she had gotten "wrapped up" in an "affair of the heart" in 1982.

She told the outlet she'd faced the disloyalty of "a special friend, an affair of the heart, which just about killed me. Oh, I cried an ocean. But I ain’t gonna talk about it anymore,” she said, playfully. “I’ve got to keep some mystery.”

Parton said at the time that she and Dean were not divorcing, reiterating what she has said years earlier.

“We’ll just always be together," she told People in 1982. "To him it’s all a joke. There ain’t a man in this world could ever live up to my husband. That’s one of the things that keeps me from going too far.”

In a 1982 interview with Barbara Walters, Parton confirmed that she'd been stuck at home in Tennessee for health issues alongside her husband. She joked that her months at home had "just about busted" their relationship.

"I'm glad to be going," she explained. "He's glad for me to be going and so we're glad to get back to our abnormal."

In the Walters interview, Parton added that she and her husband were “flirts” but were faithful "best I know how."

"I just love people there and ... being a woman away from home, there are these good looking guys that come on to you pretty strong. And every now and then I like to come on pretty strong myself," she said. "But I know that I've got something at home, that I wouldn't threaten or take a chance on losing for anything in the world."

Parton says she and Dean are still a team in 1997

In a 1997 interview with Out Magazine in which she promoted her latest collection of dance club remixes, Parton explained that she and her longtime companion, Judy Ogle, was "just an old maid" and not her lover.

"People think because she’s never married that she must be a lesbian, and because we’ve been together, that we must be lovers. But the fact is, I think Judy would rather be called a lesbian than an old maid," she quipped. "If I was gay, I’d certainly never find a finer person than Judy as a mate. I’m as close to her just about as I am with (my) husband.”

Dolly Parton and Judy Ogle Sighting - October 30, 1980
Dolly Parton and Judy Ogle spotted in October 1980.Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

She also responded to rumors about her husband being out of the picture.

"They don’t ... see my husband because he hates being in the limelight. But I see him all the time,” she told the outlet.

Parton added that the secret to her decadeslong marriage is simple.

"We just make a point to enjoy the stuff we enjoy and stay out of each other’s faces. I don’t get in his s---, and he don’t get in mine. And we get along great."

The Out interview, along with many others, were reported in the 2017 book “Not Dumb and Not Blonde: Dolly in Conversation.” The book — which cites Parton and Randy Schmidt as authors — collected and published interviews with Parton dating as far back as 1967.

Parton and Dean renew their vows

In May 2016, Parton and Dean got the wedding they planned years ago, but never got to have. The private affair was held at their Nashville-area home, and she said they "just had fun with it."

“I got all dressed up in the most beautiful gown you’ve ever seen and dressed that husband of mine up. He looked like a handsome dude out of Hollywood,” Parton told Rolling Stone. “We had a few family and friends around. We didn’t plan anything big at all because we didn’t want any kind of strain, any kind of tension, any kind of commotion, so we planned it cleverly and carefully. We just had a simple little ceremony at our chapel at our place. We just had just a few people who needed to be there to make sure they got the pictures and the few things that we needed."

Parton also said that their vow renewal inspired a large portion of her album "Plain and Simple," which was released that August.

Parton surprises Dean with a racy Playboy look for his birthday

In honor of her husband's birthday, Parton donned a throwback look that she knew he would love. In July 2021, she put on a Playboy bunny costume in his honor.

“Remember sometime back I said I was going to pose on the cover of Playboy Magazine when I was 75? Well, I’m 75 and they don’t have a magazine anymore,” she said in a video at the time. “But my husband always loved the original cover of 'Playboy' so I was trying to think of something to do to make him happy.”

Parton was the first country star to pose for the now-defunct magazine, appearing on the cover in 1978. According to her official website, her contract at the time had “very specific parameters that did not include nudity,” but she still wore the classic bunny suit.

In her 2021 video, she said that she had a new cover made with her fresh outfit and "the new Dolly."

“Well, the old new Dolly,” she said, good-naturedly. “In the first one, I was kind of a little butterball in that one. Well, I’m string cheese now.”

“But he’ll probably think I’m cream cheese,” Parton said with a wink. “I hope!”

Dolly Parton Playboy Bunny
Country singer Dolly Parton dressed as a Playboy bunny in 1978 in Los Angeles.Harry Langdon / Getty Images

Parton releases her 2023 rock album, with Dean's support

The singer recently released her newest album titled "Rockstar." On "What Would Dolly Do? Radio," she spoke more about her husband's reaction to hearing the album.

"I played him the whole album and he said, which to me was the greatest compliment in the world, he said, 'You know, it’s pretty good,'" she said. "That would be like anybody else saying, 'Oh, that’s best I ever heard. That’s just so fantastic.'"

She said Dean has always been honest with her about his opinions.

"I had done a couple of things in the past, just some rock things. He said, 'It’s OK. It’s OK,'" Parton added. "He’s very honest. We have such a great relationship. I know not to ask him if I don’t want an honest answer."