Inside Dolly Parton's unconventional 52-year marriage to a man who hates the spotlight.

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 (and after a career spanning 50 years, her 2019 Grammy Awards performance showed she’s still got it). Oh yeah, and did we mention she owns a theme park?

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, 76, have been married since May 30, 1966. But in 52 years, Carl’s public appearances can be counted 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.

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

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.

"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.

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 - and this week accepted the MusiCare Person of the Year at the Grammys - Carl was not at her side.

It's unconventional but after 52 years, no one can question that it works for them.

In 2011 Dolly told Taste of Country the secret to their long marriage was "I stay gone!"

"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.

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.

Naturally, 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.

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 friendships", 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!"

Want more Dolly? You'll love what she did with the songs for the Netflix movie Dumplin'. We talk about it on The Recap: