Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most beloved star. Her success can be seen as emblematic of the American Dream, given her rural upbringing in a large family with little means in the mountains of Tennessee. One of Dolly Parton’s lesser known accomplishments, however, is her long-lasting marriage to the ever elusive Carl Dean. Their love story is far from unusual, except for the part where she’s a public figure, and he seemed to lead a mundane life away from the spotlight. Somehow, they’ve figured out a way to keep their relationship going. After years of speculation, Dolly is finally opening up about the secret to their success.
Retreating To The Country
As excited as both the Partons and the Deans were for their children, Dolly would have to deflate their joy when her label called and gave her instructions as to how they wanted her wedding to play out.
Given that she was on the verge of releasing her debut album, the executives didn’t want her wedding to be a distraction from the work they’d done cultivating their image. Dolly was eager to please, but wouldn’t be deterred just yet.
Going For Half A Century
Dolly Parton is rarely seen with her husband by her side, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been behind the scenes for the majority of her career. Parton and her husband, Carl Dean have been married for more than 50 years, but getting to that milestone hasn’t always been an easy road to travel.
In her recently released book, Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton, she shared some surprising revelations about her long-lasting relationship.
A Whirly-wind Romance
Dolly Parton moved to Nashville the moment she graduated high school, and it seemed fate was on her side. The day after she moved, she happened to meet and fall in love with a handsome stranger who spotted her doing laundry at the Wishy Washy Laundromat.
He was concerned that she would get a sunburn in her revealing clothing and saw fit to tell her so. Dolly said she immediately noticed he was looking at her face first, and the couple quickly fell in love.
Giving In To Surprise
Dolly Parton was enchanted by the tall, good-looking stranger who seemed so worried about her creamy skin. The attraction went more than skin deep, however, as Dolly found herself “surprised and delighted” that he was looking at her while they chatted, rather than just her body.
The “rare thing for me,” she said—and “seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out who I was and what I was about.”
Despite their youth, Dolly was only 18 and Carl 21, the young lovers became nearly inseparable after their happenstance introduction. At the same time, Dolly’s music career was quickly picking up, and it seemed like she was on the fast track to success.
Dolly signed with her first label shortly after her arrival in Music City, but she didn’t realize just how much she would be asked to sacrifice by the executives in order to get her dreams off of the ground.
The notoriously private Carl Dean finally shared his side of the story with regards to what it was like to meet Dolly. He released a statement in honor of his anniversary last year that read, “My first thought was I’m gonna marry that girl. My second thought was, ‘Lord she’s good lookin’. And that was the day my life began.”
Dean had been driving past the laundromat in his pickup truck when he saw Dolly, and just knew he had to speak to her.
The Longest Wait
Dolly revealed, “Everyone at my label had invested money in me and in building my career, so they asked me if I’d wait a year to get married. And I didn’t want to not do what I was supposed to do. Carl’s mother was just heartbroken.”
Dolly and Carl were eager to tie the knot, and in the end, decided that they couldn’t wait an entire year before they got married. Though the affair wasn’t what they’d envisaged, it became a fond memory.
Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid
There’s no doubt Dolly has and is leading a life full of accomplishments.
But despite taking pride in being completely open with her fans, there’s one thing miss Parton has made sure to keep to herself. This involved her husband.
A Promise For The Ages
Dolly and Carl were ready to get engaged as Dolly’s career was beginning to ramp up. Parton told CMT News about the moment they told Dean’s parents about their, “When Carl and I told his mother that we were getting married, she was so excited that she was finally gonna get to do a wedding.
Because her only daughter had eloped. So she was so happy she would get to throw a big wedding party.”
Midnight Train To Georgia
Dolly and Carl weren’t going to be dissuaded from tying the knot so easily. The pair decided to head over to Georgia, in order to keep the local media in Tennessee at bay. Parton took only her mother with her, but once they arrived, she found she needed one extra touch to make the union feel real.
It was Memorial Day 1966, and the pair had been together for two years. It seemed to be a now or never moment.
Her Mother’s Guidance
Dolly has finally divulged the details of her secret wedding to CMT, saying, “My mother made me a little white dress and a little bouquet. But I said, ‘I can’t get married in a courthouse because I’ll never feel married.'”
She continued, “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.” It wasn’t what she imagined, but then again, neither was marriage itself.
Star On The Rise
As Dolly’s profile in the country music world began to grow, she had to contend with how her husband felt about her professional goals. Shortly after their nuptials, Carl Dean joined Dolly for an event that included a red carpet.
He suited up for the engagement, but on the way home, he supposedly told her, “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!”
Self Made Woman
Dolly Parton may have been a star in the making when she met her husband, but despite her long-held dreams of fame and fortune, there was a time in her life when her dreams seemed to be no more than a fantasy. The Southern beauty was born and raised in Tennessee.
However, that’s about all her life today has in common with her past. Given her upbringing in the backwoods of the Smoky Mountains, her success couldn’t have been more surprising.
Cheaper By The Dozen
Dolly Parton had no illusions of living a charmed life. She was born the fourth child into a family of small-time farmers, who would go on to have 12 children total. In recent days, Dolly has been more forthright about just how difficult her childhood was.
For starters, her parents were so poor, they allegedly paid the doctor for Dolly’s birth with a bag of cornmeal. She didn’t know it, but she would have a long road to travel.
Crammed Into The Cabin
Parton and her family lived together in a one-room cabin. Dolly has been candid about the difficulties they faced, given that their home not only had to accommodate 14 people, but they had no electricity or running water. Oftentimes, the only respite the family had from the crushing stone of poverty was music and religion.
It was in church that Dolly first discovered her voice, like many other country stars, but breaking out of the backwoods would not be an easy task.
Doting On Daddy
In 2015, Dolly wrote a tribute to her late father, who had passed in 2000, in celebration of the ways he influenced her life. She explained how though they were poor, and her father nearly broke his back trying to provide for the family, the children never lacked for gratitude.
In fact, they easily recognized just how hard he was working, and she said they’d fight over the opportunity to wash his feet and rub them with corn silk lotion.
Pass The Bucket
Dolly also recalled the important of her father’s ‘dinner bucket.’ Lee Parton would leave the house every day with a green tin lunchbox in hand every single day, but no matter how hard he was working, she said he would always save a portion of his lunch for his hungry children back at home.
She shared that it may have only been a bite of pie or a sandwich, or sometimes even just a piece of bologna, but the kids all cherished those morsels.
A Magical Elixar
Without modern comforts that were afforded to more affluent areas, even in the 1950s when Dolly was growing up, the family had to make do with whatever they could find. There was no such thing as television in the Parton household, but the children and their parents, Robert and Avie, managed to entertain themselves.
Most exciting of all was when Dolly’s father came into a battery, which allowed the family to huddle together and listen to country music on the radio now and again.
Though Dolly has made light of her poverty-stricken childhood, some of her stories are no laughing matter. She shared that in order to bathe, they’d use the river in the summer, but in the winter, it was simply too cold, and they’d have to heat a pan over the fire.
Dolly shared that her siblings often wet the bed, which she learned to appreciate when it was the only source of warmth they had, though it caused her to bathe often in the winter.
Out Of The Picture
As Dolly’s 53rd wedding anniversary creeps ever nearer, she’s continued to expand on how to keep the spark alive after all that time. In a recent interview, she exclaimed, “I always joke and laugh when people ask me what’s the key to my long marriage and lasting love. I always say ‘Stay gone!’ and there’s a lot of truth to that.”
All of the time they spend apart makes them appreciate their quiet moments together even more.
Music Of The Soul
Dolly’s early talent was recognized by both her parents and her uncle, who noticed the youngster was already composing music on a homemade guitar. Her first song was written about her corncob doll, the only toy she could muster in such harsh economic conditions.
Dolly’s uncle could see her passion and kickstarted her career by buying her a real guitar a few years later. If not for him, she may never have had the opportunity to become the star she is now.
It was Bill Owens, one of Dolly’s uncles on her mother’s side who began to push for the young songwriter to consider a professional career. Dolly recalled the time he drove her in his rickety car all the way to Louisiana so they could record a song they wrote together, called “Puppy Love” for a local radio station.
Dolly reminisced about having to sleep in his car, but it seems the experience would all be worth it in the end.
First Time Thrill
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of hearing your first single on the radio, and the experience was no different for Dolly. She was only 12 when “Puppy Love” was released, and couldn’t have been more excited when she finally heard her voice ringing out over the radio waves.
She revealed in an interview to The Guardian, “The radio was across the room and I almost killed myself, slipping in the mop water, trying to turn the volume up.”
Hoping To Cash In
Before Dolly made it as a big star, she had the chance to sing on the hallowed stage of the Grand Ole Opry. At that time, Dolly finally had an opportunity to hear some of the biggest country stars sing live, and there was one who she found particularly impressive.
In those early years, the impressionable girl found herself quite taken by Johnny Cash. “He had this tick when he moved his shoulder,” she said, “and it was still sexy. It still got to me.”
Wishing On The Books
It seems unsurprising that Dolly’s favors her famed over the top looks given the kind of deprivation she experienced in her youth, though some of her grandiose style seems to have been inherited by her mother. She shared that her mother’s guilty pleasure was looking at catalogs.
She would say that these “wishbooks” as they called them “[m]ade you wish you had things you didn’t have. I wanted fancy clothes, I wanted jewelry, I wanted to be pretty.”
A Lighter History
Despite the hardships Dolly endured as a child, her sense of humor always seems to shine through, even when discussing just how little they had. “You know they always talk about two rooms and a bath?” Parton joked about her childhood.
“We had two rooms and a path.” She continued to add, “We’d have running water when we’d run to get it. We didn’t have any electricity. If fireflies were out, we’d catch them in a mason jar and put them in our bedroom.”
Long after Dolly Parton had become a household name, she wrote about some of the experiences she had as a child in some of her songs. One of the best known perhaps is ‘Coat of Many Colors.’
It might sound like an homage to Joseph’s famously vibrant coat in the bible, which it is, but Dolly shared that it was also a reference to how her mom would make clothes for the kids out of rags and other fabric scraps.
Tousled And Teased
Despite the adversity, Dolly made do with what she could, painting her lips red with a chemical that couldn’t be rubbed off as a young child. By high school, she had climbed her way to the top of the social pyramid, given that she didn’t look all that different than she does now.
With the help of hairspray and some money earned through radio performances, Dolly was already sporting a tall bouffant, which she paired with “clothes so tight she could hardly wiggle in them.”
When Dolly Parton met Carl Dean, she was dressed no differently than she did in high school, and it seemed her loud personality, the very same that drove her towards show business in the first place, impressed him. Shortly after their marriage, Dolly became a regular on The Porter Wagoner Show.
Marriage seemed to be going as well as her career, a rarity in show business, but things were going to start getting rocky in a way the couple never expected.
Settling Into Home
While Dolly Parton began touring the country as an acclaimed and popular musician, her husband was content to stay in Tennessee and build a decidedly unglamorous business as a road paver. Dean never minded staying home to mind his business while Dolly was off living the glamorous life.
She had told him from the start she wasn’t going to be content living life as a homemaker, which Dean happily accepted. He liked the country life, but he would show his support in different ways.
A Grander Return
After Dolly hit it big, there was one thing she really wanted to do, which was purchase her childhood home. Though she wanted to preserve the rustic charm it held when the family lived in deep poverty, she also still thought it should have an update.
“I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it,” she explained. “Like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.”
Shy From Dollywood
Dolly’s success has spanned countless hit records and singles, but it also gave her the ability to branch out from just focusing on music. She’s quite possibly the only star, in the United States at least, who has their own theme park.
The park itself is situated not too far from her hometown. There’s just one little problem….Dolly is afraid of riding on rollercoasters.“I’ve got too much to lose—like my hair!” she once told USA Today.
Covering The Art
As Dolly’s career progressed, many rumors began to spring up about the different sort of work she had done to her body, namely that she was absolutely covered with ink. Dolly hasn’t been shy about her surgical procedures, so it seems just a little weird that she would go to great lengths to hide tattoos from the public.
In truth, Dolly finally divulged that she did have some tattoos in hidden places, which she had gotten done to cover scars.
Bringing The Bombshell
One of Dolly’s most recognizable characteristics is her shapely silhouette. When she was asked about being teased for the size and shape of her assets, Dolly answered that in the beginning, she was somewhat uncomfortable on what people were focusing their attention on.
Then, she added, “I realized that it was me showing it off with tight clothes and stuff. So, it don’t bother me as long as it’s in good taste. If it gets tacky, I don’t respond and that makes them look worse…”
Flipped On Its Head
There’s one thing that Dolly has never made a secret of, and that’s her love of surgical fixes. “I try to make positives out of negatives.
I did whatever I needed to build my confidence, and when people don’t believe I had plastic surgery, I say “Yeah, I don’t look old but I have aged my plastic surgeons.” She continued by adding that all of the work she does is to make sure how much she really works doesn’t show.
Back To The Grind
Dolly’s 1980 film, 9 to 5, which starred the singer along with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda was a massive hit, but surprisingly, they never made a sequel.
Now, she’s revealed why.”I was never willing to do a sequel, because they never came up with anything that was as good as the original. I don’t like to mess with history, you know? But this would be addressing the same issues, and they need to be addressed again and some more, in different ways.”
In The Name Of Love
Dolly may have no plans to stop working, even at 72, but she did say there was one thing that would make her slow down, even just a little bit.
She shared with People, “If my husband needed me, or someone in my family, I would put him first,” she says about her longtime love. “I’ve always put myself first and my career first, but if something were to happen to him, I would pull back on that.”
Emerging From The Shadows
Though Carl Dean kept his profile low, Dolly and her sister Stella have been vocal about the fact that he’s always there when it matters. He was rarely if ever photographed with his wife, but there was one incident the pair still laugh about.
Parton was doing a concert at a rodeo, and during Carl’s favorite song, “Higher and Higher,” she spotted him onstage, singing with her backup vocalists. As a joke, Dolly alerted security, who almost removed Dean, until they realized who he was.
The Hardest Moment
In the early 1980s, however, Dolly began to struggle with her marriage. While it isn’t clear whether or not their marriage is open, she has recently revealed that she had an emotional affair with another man, which almost drove her off the deep end.
Though Parton hasn’t indicated that she was considering leaving her marriage, she said she was in such personal turmoil, that she found herself in a moment of sheer desperation considering ending her life.
Bringing It All Back
It wasn’t just Dolly’s marriage that was giving her trouble around that time. She also found her normally steady career just wasn’t holding up as well as it once had. She needed to find a way to reinvigorate her music, which meant turning back to her roots.
She brought it all home with “Little Sparrow,” which marked Dolly’s return to the bluegrass sound of her childhood growing up in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.
Popeye Saves The day
Dolly recounts how she was holding the weapon she kept for home safety, when she heard her dog, a little French bulldog named Popeye come pattering into the room. “The tap-tap-tap of his paws jolted me back to reality I suddenly froze.
I put the gun down. Then I prayed. I kinda believe Popeye was a spiritual messenger from God” she discloses in her new book. That moment might have been her lowest point, but she wasn’t ready to let go of Dean just yet.
How Long Is Forever?
Surprisingly, Dolly’s big hit song, “I Will Always Love You” wasn’t actually written about her husband, which begs the question, who will Dolly always love? The truth is, the song had no illusion to Dean or the state of their marriage, Dolly simply wrote it as a goodbye to the Porter Wagoner Show.
The song has had three record-setting releases, making it the only song to debut at number one on the charts more than once.
Allegations Pile Up
Dolly has always been beset by rumors about possible romances that occurred with her costars. When she was working on Best Littler Whorehouse In Texas, whispers floated around that she had gotten involved with Burt Reynolds, despite her later accounts of how horrible he was to work with.
Other famous men she was linked to include Sylvester Stallone, Billy Ray Cyrus, whose daughter Miley is her goddaughter, and Kenny Rogers. Dolly hasn’t confirmed any of the romances, and often states that they were simply platonic.
Open Or Closed
With all of the rumors swirling, it can be hard to tell if Dolly and Carl are in an open and closed relationship. She has said, “People always ask me if I’ve had extramarital affairs, and you can draw your own conclusions.” She continued, “He seems to know that I’ll be back, and that love affairs and relationships are just part of my dealings with people.”
To add to the confusion, however, she has also said that she only means flirting, not true affairs.
Only He Sees
Dolly has another secret that she reserves only for her husband: her tattoos. She has explained that while she is not secretly covered in ink, she has received a couple of tattoos over the years, but in hidden places where only her husband will see them.
Given her flashy sense of style, it’s a little bit surprising that Dolly would be so surreptitious about her body art, especially considering how open she otherwise is about her bodily modifications.
Bank Of Auburn
Given Carl Dean’s preference for staying in the shadows, there have always been rumors swirling as to the nature of his and Dolly’s private relationship. While Dolly is known for her outgoing charm, it was her jealousy over the attention she perceived her husband to be getting that likely inspired one of her best-known songs, “Jolene.”
She explained how she’d tease him for going to the bank so often, where a leggy, red-headed teller had a very obvious crush on Dean.
Bubbling Between Them
As the years passed, the public never knew what to think about Dolly and her ever elusive husband. New information has surfaced recently that Dolly may have had another dalliance with a different man who was in her close circle in the early 1990s.
According to the Daily Mail, Dean is still angry with his wife about the alleged affair, which supposedly was carried out for six years. Dolly has never confirmed the rumor, but supposedly the tryst ended when she refused to leave Carl.
Given the demands of Dolly’s career, it’s not unusual for her to rely on a trusted assistant in order to get through her day to day life. Dolly’s assistant, Judy Ogle, has been a close friend since the girls were children, however, their closeness has caused tongues to wag.
Some suspect the two women at one point carried out an affair, especially after Dolly revealed that they often shared a bed. “Why scream across the room when you don’t have to?” Dolly explained.
Slight Of Home
Talk of marital spats are few and far between when it comes to Dolly and Carl, most likely because Carl is so rarely seen in public. However, there was one incident that came up when Dolly purchased houses in both Hawaii and Los Angeles during the 1980s.
Dolly allegedly became upset that Carl refused to visit her new purchases, accusing him that his refusal was a sign he was no longer in love with her. Somehow though, the conflict was smoothed over.
The Lonely Ranch
Parton and Dean never had any children of their own, but that wasn’t for a lack of trying. In the 1980s, Dolly Parton had to undergo a partial hysterectomy, which caused her to have to reckon with the fact that she and Dean, who had been married for nearly 20 years at that point, would never have children of their own.
It was a tough blow to the couple, but Dolly shared that there was one thing that had gotten them through the storm.
Faith At Fifty
Dolly Parton’s career was started in the church, so it’s no surprise that she still considers herself to be a very religious person. She opened up that it was her belief that helped her and Dean through those rocky years in the 80s.
For a woman who supposedly awakes in the middle of the night to pray and meditate, she claims her husband is even more religious than she is. However, that’s not the thing that they credit for keeping their marriage alive.
Keeping To Himself
As loud as her husband is shy, Dolly has made no secret of his distaste for the glamorous life. “My husband is a loner,” she explained of Dean. “He doesn’t particularly care about being around anybody but me. He’s just always asked me to leave him out of all this. He does not like all the hullabaloo.”
In fact, she shared that her assistant Judy is one of the few people other than Dolly herself that Carl can stand to be around.
Smallest Of Gestures
Carl Dean might not be much a traditional romantic, but he certainly knows how to show his love to Dolly in the smallest of ways. She recounts that for one of their earliest Christmases, he gave his wife a stove as a gift, which seems more practical, but is certainly to be appreciated.
She also admitted that he will often leave her little bundles of wildflowers that he collected, along with a poem he wrote for her.
Hitting A Century
After 50 years of marriage, Parton and Dean decided to renew their vows in the gaudy ceremony they never had. In honor of the occasion, Dolly finally revealed that the secret to their marriage is all the time they spend apart. He’s as quiet and private as she is outgoing and over the top.
She added, “If I had it to do all over, I’d do it all over again, and we did. I’m dragging him kicking and screaming into the next 50 years.”