For more than 50 years, the country superstar has been married to a man who prefers to remain of the spotlight.
On May 30, 1966, Dolly Parton married asphalt contractor Carl Dean. The two have been together ever since, despite seeming to have little in common – Parton’s created hit albums, starred in movies and appeared on television, while Dean’s preferred to live away from the spotlight. However, Parton understood her husband’s desire for privacy, even as she became more and more famous, and Dean remained proud of his wife’s career, even when it drew unwanted attention his way. Though their marriage may appear unconventional to outsiders, it’s survived thanks to their mutual love and respect.
They met outside a laundromat
Parton was surprised when husband-to-be Dean entered her life. “I met him the first day I got to Nashville, in 1964. I graduated on a Friday night, went to Nashville on a Saturday morning with dirty clothes and I went to a Laundromat looking for anything but love. I had just left two boyfriends back home,” she told Interview in 1984. As for Dean, it was love at first sight. He revealed: “My first thought was ‘I’m gonna marry that girl. My second thought was, ‘Lord she’s good lookin.'”
Though love wasn’t featured in her plans, Parton also felt an instant connection with Dean, so she invited him to visit her at her aunt and uncle’s, where she was staying. Dean came every day for a week, then took her to meet his parents on their first real date.
Parton’s record label didn’t want her to get married
Dean had to enlist in the army soon after he started seeing Parton. They stayed in touch during his service and got engaged after his two years in the military were up. However, fearful of a negative impact on her career, Parton’s record label didn’t want her to get married at that time. But the singer, who’s said, “I was so in love with Carl I couldn’t see straight,” was determined to tie the knot. To keep their wedding news under wraps, the pair went to Georgia for a small ceremony, which took place on May 30, 1966.
Dean had been supportive of Parton’s dreams while they were dating, and marriage didn’t alter this fact – the morning after their wedding, she got up early for a radio appearance. The couple also delayed a honeymoon because Parton had other commitments. “He understood that I had to do what I had come to Nashville to do,” she said of Dean in 1976. “He never tried to make me give it up.”
PHOTOS: Dolly Parton and Carl Dean Through the Years
Dean has inspired many of Parton’s hits
Dean’s support for Parton’s career didn’t extend to controlling it. “He never interferes with me businesswise,” Parton told Playboy in 1978. “That’s why I hire managers.” Instead, her husband concentrated on his own asphalt paving business. In fact, Dean apparently didn’t really enjoy his wife’s music. “He likes hard rock, he likes Led Zeppelin and bluegrass music, so my music is somewhere in between,” Parton shared on Good Morning Britain in 2019. “He doesn’t dislike it, but he doesn’t go out of his way to play my records, let’s put it that way.”
Yet Dean has played a role in his wife’s songs. The hit “Jolene” is partly based on a bank teller who flirted with him. And Parton wrote “Just Because I’m a Woman” in response to her new husband’s disappointment when he learned she’d had sex with other men before meeting him. Plus Dean has been the inspiration for Parton love songs such as “From Here to the Moon and Back,” “Forever Love,” “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine” and “Tomorrow is Forever.” The notoriously private Dean is also on the album cover for Parton’s My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy.
Dean’s taken extreme measures to maintain his privacy
Despite his album cover appearance, Dean has consistently avoided Parton’s celebrity lifestyle. After attending an awards ceremony in 1966, he reportedly told her, “I love you, and I will support you in your career any way I can, but I am not going to any more of these wingdings.” Parton accepted where her husband was coming from. “He knows if he ever started doing interviews and if people started photographing him and all that, then he wouldn’t be able to go to the auto parts store or the ballgames and the places he wants to go without bein’ bothered,” she said in 1981.
Over the years, Dean has taken steps to maintain his private life. When Parton made her movie debut in 1980’s 9 to 5, her husband skipped the Nashville premiere (he did see the movie on his own). The Dollywood theme park opened in 1986 with no pictures of Dean on display, as he’d only been willing to be photographed with a bag over his head. If reporters staked out his and Parton’s home and tried to talk to Dean, he’d sometimes tell them he wasn’t the star’s elusive husband — he was the gardener.
Parton was accused of her marriage being a cover-up for another relationship
Because Dean hasn’t often been seen with Parton, questions arose about the nature of their relationship. Some fans speculated that the marriage is a cover-up for Parton’s love affair with lifelong friend Judy Ogle. Parton has relied heavily on Ogle, including during a time in the 1980s when she was unwell and didn’t want to worry Dean with the full extent of her health problems, but she’s scoffed at the idea of a romance. “She’s not my lover; she has never been my lover,” Parton told Vanity Fair in 1991. “If we were lovers I would not be ashamed of it, I’d just say there’s a great love between us — so there.”
Though tabloids wrote that Parton had been drawn into an affair with her The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) co-star Burt Reynolds, Dean wasn’t upset by the accusations. In 2015, Parton told Parade, “He’s very secure within himself. He’s never been jealous.” And while Parton has admitted that during the 1980s she was devastated by what she termed her “affair of the heart,” she also explained, “We’re not afraid that one of us is gonna run off with somebody else, because we couldn’t find in nobody else what we found in each other.”
Parton admits they’re ‘complete opposite’
Talking about Dean to People in 2015, Parton admitted, “We’re completely opposite, but that’s what makes it fun. I never know what he’s gonna say or do. He’s always surprising me.” They laugh together and accept one another as-is. Dean doesn’t care for flying, so Parton doesn’t ask him to (apart from one trip to Hawaii). And in Parton’s view, their frequent separations may have strengthened their marriage: “Nobody likes somebody to be stuck in their face all the time — that’s why we get along so good, because when we are together we have a good time.”
The couple hasn’t spent every moment apart, as Dean sometimes saw Parton on tour. One time he even joined her background singers for a performance. Plus Parton is always happy to head back home to see her husband. She says that when they reunite, “He loves to hear about the things I do. I love to hear about the things he does. So we enjoy each other’s company. We get along good.”
Dean calls Parton the ‘love of my life’
Parton and Dean — who call each other “Daddy” and “Mama” — share a union that works for them. They don’t regret a lack of children, having many nieces, nephews and godchildren to focus on. And they’re comfortable with each other. “I know every line in his face and he knows every hair in my wig,” Parton said in 2014.
In 2016, in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary, Parton and Dean renewed their vows. That same year, Dean stated, “I wouldn’t trade the last 50 years for nothing on this earth.” Parton declared in 2015, “Not everyone is lucky enough to be with someone for 50 years, but I have been. He has been the love of my life and the life of my love.”
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