Dolly Parton is one of the biggest names in country music. As such, she’s had her fair share of admirers. One admirer, however, stands head and shoulders above them all — her husband Carl Thomas Dean. In fact, Dolly and Carl celebrate 56 years of wedded bliss today. You might expect that someone as famous as Dolly would find it challenging to keep a marriage together for this long, but her very private spouse has never had an issue with standing (far) back and letting his lady shine.
Dolly met Carl on the very first day she moved to Nashville in 1964. They were practically children — she was 18, he was 21 — when, as the story goes, they locked eyes outside of the Wishy Washy Laundromat in Music City. They began dating shortly after and tied the knot two years later, in May of 1966. The rest is history. Nowadays, the pair shared clean up duties in the kitchen and sometimes get sick of each other, just like any normal couple.
While Dean has always avoided red carpet events and stayed out of the spotlight, he’s made some deeply romantic comments about his longtime bride over the years. On their 50th wedding anniversary, Dean told ET that his first thought after setting eyes on the country crooner was that he wanted to marry her. “My second thought was, ‘Lord she’s good lookin.’ And that was the day my life began,” he said simply.
The secret to their union seems to be a shared penchant for independence and giving each other plenty of space. “We’ve been together most of our lives,” Dolly told People in 2018. “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. I travel a lot, but we really enjoy each other when we’re together and the little things we do.”
It makes sense to assume Dolly’s relationship with Dean inspired some of her most amorous songs. “Islands in the Stream,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “Here You Come Again” are good examples. But rumor has it that Dean was also the impetus behind one of Dolly’s most audacious tunes, “Jolene.” In that song, Parton begs another woman not to steal her man.
In 2014, the Independent reported that while Parton was performing at Glastonbury, the singer got a bit sassy and informed the crowd, “I wrote that [song] years ago when my husband… was spending a little more time with Jolene than I thought he should be. I put a stop to that. I got rid of that redhead woman in a hurry. …Had it not been for that woman I would never have written ‘Jolene’ and I wouldn’t have made all that money, so thank you.”
Parton has even described her alleged competition in some detail. “She had everything I didn’t, like legs — you know, she was about 6 feet tall,” Parton told NPR in 2018 of the woman who flirted with her husband. “And [she] had all that stuff that some little short, sawed-off honky like me don’t have.”
After 56 years, though, our guess is that Dean likes his enormously successful wife’s short legs just fine.