celebrity

Dolly Parton's been married for 58 years. Her husband's public appearances can be counted on one hand.

Dolly Parton is one of the world’s most enduring stars.

She’s a cultural icon, known for rising out of poverty in rural Tennessee to become a star loved for both her music and her personality. Oh yeah, and did we mention she owns a theme park?

Watch: Dolly Parton on Jimmy Fallon talking about Carl's wish for a threesome. Post continues below


Video via Mamamia

Despite all this, there is one large part of Dolly’s life that has remained largely out of the spotlight.

She and her husband Carl Dean have been married since May 30, 1966. But in 58 years, Carl’s public appearances can be counted on a single hand.

While Dolly is bold and sassy, shy Carl is her complete opposite. But opposites attract, right?

carl dean and dolly parton
Image: DollyParton.com.
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In an interview with ET Canada, Dolly shared that one of the simple ways she responds when people ask how they have stayed together so long is as she says, "I stay going".

Other than staying power, Dolly, who posed in a Playboy bunny outfit for a photo shoot for her husband's 75th birthday in July 2021, says that having separate interests is key.

"We’re not in each other’s face all the time. He’s not in the business, so we have different interests, but yet we have the things we love to do together. So it was meant to be, I think. He was the one I was supposed to have and vice versa."

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After so many years together, Dolly says that a shared sense of humour is helpful.

"We both have a warped sense of humour. And I think humour, honestly, is one of the best things when you’re married like that. Even if you have a problem, if you have a great sense of humour, if you say something you can’t take back [you] usually have some crazy way of getting out of it," Dolly said in the interview with ET Canada.

While they have undoubtedly had their ups and downs over almost six decades, she says they don't go in for big fights. 

"We’ve never had, you know, serious arguments to say bad things to each other we have to take back," she explained.

Like something straight out of an American romantic comedy, Dolly and Carl first met at a laundromat in 1964. She was 18, and he was 21.

In 1966, her record label was worried that getting married would get in the way of her musical career, but of course, no one can tell Dolly Parton what to do: They eloped, with just Dolly's mother, the preacher and his wife in attendance.

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"My first thought was I'm gonna marry that girl," Dean said in a rare public statement on the couple's 50th wedding anniversary in 2016. "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."

Carl Dean and Dolly Paron on their wedding day.
Carl and Dolly on their wedding day. Image: DollyParton.com

Dolly's career began to take off in the same year as their marriage, meaning she was required to attend many industry events.

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It was after one such night out - well, actually, it was after the first event they'd ever attended together - that Carl made it clear that while he loved and supported his wife; he was not interested in all the glitzy, public outings.

"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!" he told her.

And so she didn't, with very few exceptions. When Dolly attended awards shows such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in November 2018, Carl was not at her side. 

It's unconventional but after 56 years, no one can question that it works for them.

In 2011 Dolly told Taste of Country that another secret to their long marriage was spending time apart.

"You can't be in each other's face all the time. 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."

Carl and Dolly on their wedding day.
Image: DollyParton.com.
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She said a friendship is also crucial, as is accepting each other for who they are without thinking you can change each other.

At age 36, Dolly underwent a partial hysterectomy and was told she could never have children.

"I didn't have kids of my own, so everybody's kids could be mine," she told PEOPLE.

In 2018, she donated her 100 millionth book through her non-profit Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, a book gifting organisation devoted to inspiring a love of reading in children.

Her philanthropic work took on new meaning in 2020 when she donated $1 million toward the research behind Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine. In July 2022, she was named an awardee of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

Naturally, after 58 years, Dolly and Carl's relationship has hit bumps. She did write 'Jolene', after all.

One of her most loved songs led to rumours Carl was cheating, but Dolly told fans at a concert the song was written about a red-headed bank clerk who flirted with Carl. She said she "put a stop" to him spending so much time there. 

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A 2017 book called 'Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters With Dolly Parton' included a statement from Dolly where she called her marriage "totally open and free", which led to an "affair of the heart" that caused her heartbreak so painful she once contemplated suicide.

Dolly's career has also been dogged by rumours of a lesbian relationship with her friend Judy Ogle but in 2014 she told PrideSource.com their friendship was just a "precious friendship", and "I am not gay, but if I were, I would be the first one out of the closet."

To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2016, Dolly and Carl renewed their vows in Ringgold, Georgia - the same place they originally got hitched.

In true Dolly fashion, her account of that night was very candid.

"We just got fast food and ate in our camper and spent the night… It was [romantic] to us," she said on The Tonight Show.

"We just park and go to bed in the camper. We actually don't sleep that much," she joked, "that's why we've lasted 50 years!"

This article was originally published on February 12, 2019 and was updated in July 2024.

Feature Image: Instagram @dollyparton

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