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Though Dolly Parton, 75, is responsible for penning some of the greatest love songs of all time, including the 1973 hit, "I Will Always Love You," Parton and her husband Carl Thomas Dean, 79, keep their relationship extremely private. Rarely are the couple—who have been together since 1964—photographed or interviewed together.
According to Parton, this has led to the prevalent theory that her husband doesn't actually exist. Spoiler alert: He does. "A lot of people have thought that through the years, because he does not want to be in the spotlight at all," Parton told ET in 2020. "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."
Yet Dean's privacy may just be the secret that keeps their romance strong. In a 2020 interview with People, Parton gave a rare insight into her married life. After 57 years together, Parton says she and Dean keep the spark alive by planning spontaneous, but simple, dates for one another.
"I'll cook the stuff that I know we love. And I pack it up in a picnic basket. And then we'll go find some riverbank somewhere with our little camper, park, have a picnic. Or we'll pull up to some little Days Inn motel, go in as long as the bed's clean and there's a bathroom. We just do our little things like that," Parton told People.
According to Parton, Dean always thinks of ways to make her feel special. "In the springtime when the first yellow daffodils come out...my husband always brings me a bouquet. And he'll usually write me a little poem. Which to me, that's priceless. That's like a date in itself," Parton told People. And Parton went out of her way to make Dean feel special on his birthday—by dressing up as a Playboy bunny.
Here's a look back at how Dean swept her off her cowboy-booted feet five decades ago. Spoiler meet-cute alert: It all began at the laundromat.
It was love at first sight for Parton and Dean when they met outside the Wishy Washy laundromat in Nashville. She was 18 and he was 21. It was Parton’s first day in the Music City, having just moved from her native Sevierville, Tennessee. Parton caught Dean’s eye as he drove by in his white pickup truck. Sounds like the makings of a country song, right?
"My first thought was I'm gonna marry that girl," Dean shared when they renewed their vows at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 2016. "My second thought was, 'Lord she's good lookin.' And that was the day my life began."
While she tended to the fluffing and folding, he, reportedly, flirted with her."When I met my husband, he wanted to take me out to dinner," Parton told People about their first few years of dating. "He pulled up to the drive-in window and got our food at McDonald’s. He only likes to go places where he can be comfortable."
Then, two years later, on May 30, 1966, Parton and Dean made it official, tying the knot at a church in Ringgold, Georgia. She was 20 and he was 23.
The only people in attendance were Parton's mom, Avie Lee, and the preacher and his wife. Back in 1966, Parton had just gotten her big break by singing the demo, "Put It Off Until Tomorrow," for country music artist Bill Phillips, and her first solo hit, "Dumb Blonde," was gaining momentum on the music charts.
Parton and Dean decided to elope because her record label, Monument, was worried that Parton getting hitched would get in the way of her music career. According to People, the record label wanted her to think about it, and Parton, in typical Southern fashion, responded,"I ain’t waiting!"
"My mother made me a little white dress and a little bouquet," Parton told Country Music Television (CMT). "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."
Though Parton was on the fast-track to becoming the legendary country music artist she's revered as today, her husband, who runs a local asphalt-paving company in Nashville, chose to stay out of the spotlight. Parton recounted a BMI dinner in 1966, which was the first (and last) industry event she and her husband attended together. Parton was honored with a songwriting award, for the Phillips recording of "Put It Off Until Tomorrow. " But when the night's festivities were over, Dean made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with the entertainment business.
"This was my first big record," remembered Parton. "It went to No. 1 for Bill, and it was BMI's Song of the Year. So Carl and I got dressed up, he was in a tux, and we drove to the dinner. We got out and walked up the red carpet and went inside and sat through dinner and the awards. After the dinner, Carl turned to me and said, '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!'"
However, Parton credits their difference to the success of their five decades-long relationship. "They say that opposites attract, and it’s true," she told People in 2015. "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."
Parton added: "He wants to be mostly around the house. He knows I’m just the opposite. I can’t go enough places. I can’t do enough things. He loves that. He’s independent. He doesn’t need me in his face, and it’s the same with me. But when we’re together, we have enough things in common that it works."
In 1973, Parton released the hit song, "Jolene" that would, one year later, become the title of her fourteenth studio album. On the track, Parton sings about confronting a young red-haired woman name Jolene who she believes is sleeping around with her husband. It's one of her most beloved songs, and along with the success of it came speculation that the lyrics hit a little too close to home. Parton herself fanned the flames of cheating rumors, telling fans at her earlier concerts that she "put a stop" to Dean spending so much at the bank where Jolene apparently worked.
However, in recent years, Parton has revealed that the real Jolene is actually a little girl with "red hair, green eyes, and fair skin" who she met at one of her shows. When the young woman asked for an autograph and told Parton her name, Parton, according to The Independent, said it was "just about the prettiest name" she ever heard. And she promised Jolene she would write a song about her. We're not sure which Jolene story is true, but considering the fact that Parton and Dean just celebrated their 52-year wedding anniversary, we're inclined to believe the latter.
Parton dedicated the ode, "From Here to the Moon and Back" to her husband. The song originally appeared on Parton's Joyful Noise soundtrack album to coincide with the musical film of the same name. She later recorded the track as a duet with frequent collaborator, Willie Nelson.
"I needed to write a beautiful love song," she recalled during an interview with The Boot. "I picked my husband, who I love, and I thought, 'Well, I’ll write some beautiful song about him.' It was about my husband in the movie, played by Kris Kristofferson, so I thought in order to make it really real and really touching, I would write my real, true emotions about someone I really do love and have loved for more than half of my life."
The longtime couple renewed their vows in May 2016, marking their 50th anniversary. Because Parton didn't get the wedding she dreamed of back in 1966, the "9 to 5" singer pulled out all the stops for her intimate renewal ceremony at their home in Nashville.
"I got all dressed up in the most beautiful gown you’ve ever seen and dressed that husband of mine up," Parton told Rolling Stone. "He looked like a handsome dude out of Hollywood. 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 fun with it."
"If I had it to do all over, I'd do it all over again, and we did," Parton said back in 2016. "I'm dragging him kicking and screaming into the next 50 years."
Later, in 2016, Dean served as the inspiration for Parton's 46th studio album (yes, you read that correctly!), Pure & Simple, which was released on August 19.
"I was just trying to think about all the different colors of love through the years," Parton explained during her Rolling Stone interview. "I thought, 'Well I’m going to write about mine and Carl’s relationship. It’s just a pure and simple relationship,' so it started with that and then I thought, 'Well why don’t I just write a whole album of love songs?'"
The couple doesn't have children, but Parton and Dean enjoy spoiling their nieces, and Parton's famous goddaughter Miley Cyrus. She continues to work with kids through her non-profit organization, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, as well.
"Now that I’m older, I realize I didn’t have kids of my own, so everybody’s kids could be mine," Parton told People in November. "I [want to] empower children and give them confidence."
She's also keeping busy these days with music and the confirmed 9 to 5 film reboot. And, Parton released the soundtrack for Netflix’s original film Dumplin’, starring Jennifer Aniston, last year. The album features six new songs and six reimagined oldie-but-goodies. Continuing her partnership with the streaming giant, Parton executive produced an eight-part anthology series called called Dolly Parton's Heartstrings that's based on her music. Each episode will have a different theme song and cast. And, of course, one will include "Jolene."
Parton admitted that Dean's "not necessarily one of the biggest fans of my music." She told Good Morning Britain host Kate Garraway, "He likes hard rock, he likes Led Zeppelin and bluegrass music, so my music is somewhere in between...he doesn't dislike it, but he doesn't go out of his way to play my records, let's put it that way."
Still, Parton said Dean has always supported her in his own way. "He’s proud of me," she said. "And he loves that I love what I do. I think it’s just…it’s a touchy subject. I’m like his little girl, I think. He just worries about that," adding that Dean will show up to her performances at state fairs "because he loves to go to the tractor pool."
"For years and years he would never come to the shows because he felt like he'd get nervous if I messed up, so he never wanted to watch it," Parton said. "The first time he saw me perform and that I was in control of the stage, he was ok."
While on a press tour for her new book Dolly Parton: Songteller, Parton gave an update on her relationship with Dean. Like many couples cooped up together in 2020, Parton (lovingly) said she and Dean are getting on each others' nerves.
“I’m sure he’s sick of me,” Dolly shared on the “Table Manners with Jessie Ware” podcast on December 1. “My husband and I have been together for 57 years, been married 54, and I’m sick of him.”
But the affection Parton has for her husband remains palpable. Speaking to Ru Paul for a Marie Claire profile, Parton revealed that she cooked breakfast for her husband that day. "I made some sausage patties, and I baked some biscuits, and I made some milk gravy. He likes that once in a while. Now, I can’t eat like that all the time, but I enjoy eating it when I do," she said, adding that she prepared the meal in high heels. Of course.
2021 has seen a lot of social media love for Carl. In honor of her husband's birthday, Parton recreated one of his favorite moments: Her 1978 cover of Playboy Magazine. Parton was the first country singer to appear in Playboy Magazine, and agreed to the interview under the condition that there would be no nudity in the shoot.
"Remember some time back I said I was gonna pose on Playboy Magazine when I'm 75? Well, I'm 75 and they don't have a magazine anymore, but my husband always loved the original cover of Playboy," she said.
To Parton, dressing up as a Playboy bunny was the perfect way to give Dean a boost. "I was trying to think of something to do to make him happy," she said. "He still thinks I'm a hot chick after 57 years and I'm not gonna try to talk him out of that.
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) July 20, 2021
Parton playfully compared the 1978 photoshoot with this one. “In the first one...I was kind of a little butterball in that one. Well, I’m string cheese now, but he’ll probably think I’m cream cheese, I hope,” said, before going on to surprise him.
Parton ended the video by saying she thinks Playboy should pay her for the shoot.
To promote her clothing line, Parton posted a vintage throwback with Dean on November 02, 2021. The pair is pictured holding hands and Dean's shirt has been photoshopped to feature a shirt from Dolly Parton's collection available online, on her website. Parton comically captioned the image, "Find you a partner who will support you like my Carl Dean does!"
During the same month of November, Parton posted yet another picture of Dean, but this time on Thanksgiving Day. She shared a sweet throwback of herself and Dean sitting together on a retro couch while smiling to the camera. The young couple can be seen dressed up in their holiday attire in the instagram post.
Parton captioned the post, “Happy #Thanksgiving from me and mine to you and yours ❤️.”
The cute throwback received a lot of attention with support from fan and friend, Reese Witherspoon commenting, "Grateful for you ! ❤️."
Another instagram user commented, "Obsessed with all the Carl Dean publicity lately 👏👏," alluding to the rareness of being able to enjoy not one but two pictures from Parton and Dean's marriage in one month from the notoriously private couple.
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