Inside Dolly Parton & Carl Thomas Dean's 50-Plus Years of Marriage

"I like it when people say, 'How did it last so long?' I say, 'It's still going."
Dolly Marries Carl Dean
Photo: Dolly Parton
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Brittany Barber
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Brittany Barber
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Updated Nov 29, 2023

Legendary country music icon Dolly Parton, age 77, and husband Carl Dean, age 81, share an extraordinary bond that spans nearly six decades. When it comes to celebrity love stories, theirs is one of longevity. Having been wed for 57 years, their union might be one of the longest marriages to come out of the entertainment industry.

Revered for her trailblazing music (who doesn't know at least a few Dolly Parton song lyrics?) and extensive philanthropic work, Parton is no stranger to the spotlight. In contrast, her husband remains an enigmatic and elusive figure, having always preferred a private life away from the fame game.

Dolly Parton performs onstage during the 58th Academy Of Country Music Awards
Photo: Theo Wargo / Getty Images

Even with major differences in lifestyle choices, their long-lasting commitment to one another showcases love's ability to persevere through challenges. And it's that perseverance that has captivated the curiosity and admiration from fans and admirers alike. That being said, let's uncover the details of their love story and explore how they've navigated a successful marriage for nearly six decades.

  • Is Dolly Parton married? Yes, to Carl Dean.

  • Who is Dolly Parton's husband? Carl Thomas Dean

  • ​​Does Dolly Parton have kids? No, Parton and Dean never had children.

  • Is Miley Cyrus related to Dolly Parton? They aren't biologically related, but Cyrus is Dolly Parton's goddaughter.

Who is Dolly Parton's Husband, Carl Thomas Dean?

inger-songwriter Dolly Parton performs onstage at Dollyverse
Photo: Rick Kern / Getty Images

Despite being married for many years, Carl Thomas Dean has mostly stayed out of the public eye. Notorious for maintaining a low profile, Dean has left the limelight and media attention to his wife.

What we know about Parton's husband is that he was born in Nashville, Tennessee on July 20, 1942, and that he grew up in a modest household. At 81, Dean is now retired, but his work used to revolve around owning and managing an asphalt-laying business.

How Dolly Parton and Carl Dean Met

Dolly Parton attends the 37th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction
Photo: Emma McIntyre / Getty Images

Dolly Parton met Carl Dean shortly after Parton graduated from high school, when she moved to Nashville. They actually crossed paths on her first day in Music City outside of a laundromat. "I was at the laundromat, the Wishy‐Washy. I'd come to Nashville with dirty clothes. I was in such a hurry to get here—and after I'd put my clothes in the machine," Parton told the said in an interview with the New York Times in 1976. "I started walkin' down the street, and this guy hollered at me, and I waved. Bein' from the country, I spoke to everybody. And he came over and, well, it was Carl, my husband."

"My first thought was I'm gonna marry that girl," Dean said in a statement to Entertainment Tonight. "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 Parton and Carl Dean's Relationship Timeline

1964: Dolly Parton and Carl Dean meet

Dolly and Carl sitting on couch
Photo: dollyparton / Instagram

Parton and Dean met in 1964, when Parton was 18 and Dean was 21. They ran into each other outside of a laundromat the day she moved to Tennessee. Soon after that fateful encounter, their relationship started. "He came up every day that week and we set out on the porch," she told the New York Times in 1976. "I wouldn't even take him in the house."

Eventually, Dean took her to his house on a day she could get away from her aunt's house. "That was my first chance to go anywhere with Carl, and he drove me straight to his folks' house and introduced me to his mother and daddy," she explained. "'Cause he said he knew right the minute he saw me that that's the one he wanted."

1966: Dolly Parton and Carl Dean get married

Dolly and Carl posing for photo.
Photo: Dolly Parton

Two years after meeting, Parton and Dean got engaged. Unfortunately, her manager at the time, Fred Foster, wanted her to wait. "He asked me not to get married," she said in an interview with Local News. "He said it'll make it so much harder if you're married with all this promotion."

But Parton didn't listen to her manager. Instead, they snuck off to Georgia and tied the knot in a secret ceremony on Memorial Day in 1966. "My mother-in-law had already sent out invitations," Dolly added. "It broke her heart because I said we had to call the wedding off."

"It was just my mother and Carl and me," she said in a separate interview with CMT. "We went across the state line to Ringgold, Georgia. My mother made me a little white dress and a little bouquet and a little Bible. 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."

1969: Dolly Parton showcases a photo of Carl Dean on her album cover

My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy album cover
Photo: Dolly Parton

Parton used a picture of her husband on the cover of her first solo album, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy. You can see him sitting in the background wearing jeans and a plaid shirt. Apparently, it's one of the first images the public ever got to see of Parton's husband.

1973: Dolly Parton releases "Jolene," later revealed to be inspired by her husband

In an interview with NPR in 2008, Parton discussed the origin story behind her hit song, "Jolene," and how it was about a redheaded bank teller who flirted a little too much with Carl Dean.

"She got this terrible crush on my husband," Parton explained. "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."

1984: Dolly Parton undergoes a partial hysterectomy

According to a report by Closer Weekly, Parton underwent a partial hysterectomy and was told she'd never be able to have children with husband Carl. Whether or not this was the sole reason for Parton and Dean to forgo having kids is up for speculation.

"God has a plan for everything," Parton later said in an interview with Country Living. "I think it probably was his plan for me not to have kids so everybody's kids could be mine. And they are now."

In fact, Parton took up the role instead of godmother to another famous artist. In an interview on The Howard Stern Show, Parton explained how she became close to Miley Cyrus' father, Billy Ray Cyrus, in 1992. "We just got to be good friends because he's a Kentucky boy, I'm from Tennessee," Parton said. "And he said … 'We're having a girl, and you've got to be her godmother!' And I said: 'Well, I'd be honored.' So actually, Miley and I took over from there. We just stayed very, very close through the years."

1994: Dolly Parton releases her autobiography, which discusses an "affair of the heart"

In her autobiography, Parton discusses the strong connection she had with her band leader, Gregg Perry, in the early '80s. "Gregg and I became very close … I had never spent so much time with such a well-educated and knowledgeable man," she wrote. "I let myself get completely wrapped up in him." Despite this "affair of the heart," it never led to a split between Parton and Dean.

2016: Dolly Parton and Carl Dean renew their vows on their 50th wedding anniversary

Parton and Dean decided to renew their vows on their 50th anniversary and have a bigger celebration than they had in 1966.

"I missed the big long wedding dress the first time, so this time, we went all out," Parton told CMT. "I wore a Steve Summers dress. Carl looked great in his suit. Then we went down to Ringgold again and spent the night in our camper, went out to the lake for a few days.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Parton elaborated on their celebration. "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," she said. "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. We just had fun with it."

2020: Dolly Parton explains why her relationship is so private

In an interview with ET's Rachel Smith, Parton opened up about the reasons behind keeping her relationship with her husband so private.

"He does not want to be in the spotlight at all," Parton mentioned, emphasizing his reserved nature. "It's just not who he is. He's like, a quiet, reserved person and he figured if he ever got out there in that, he'd never get a minute's peace and he's right about that."

"I've always respected and appreciated that in him and I've always tried to keep him out of the limelight as much as I can," she further explained, highlighting her efforts to honor his wishes. "He said, 'I didn't choose this world, I chose you, and you chose that world. But we can keep our lives separate and together.' And we do and we have. We've been together 56 years, married 54."

How the Couple Handles Life in the Spotlight

Dolly and Carl posing for photo.
Photo: Dolly Parton

When it comes to life in the spotlight, Parton and Dean have very different approaches and comfort levels. As we know, Parton thrives in the spotlight, while Dean has no interest in fame or publicity whatsoever.

So how do they manage? Well, in an interview with ET Canada, Parton said having different interests and being okay with a certain level of independence has helped keep their marriage afloat. "I like it when people say, 'How did it last so long?' I say, 'It's still going,'" Parton explained. "You know, there's a lot to be said about that. So, 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."

In an interview with People, Parton also shared: "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. My husband is a good man, first of all. He's a deep person, but he has a great and warped sense of humor. He makes me laugh and entertains me. He's very secure within himself."

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