A celebratory history of Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean’s enduring marriage

Dolly Parton and her husband Carl Thomas Dean have been together for 57 years

Dolly Parton attends MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Dolly Parton at Los Angeles Convention Center
(Image credit: Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic via Getty)

Dolly Parton’s husband might not be well-known to all the singer's fans, but after 57 years together, the singer and Carl Thomas Dean are as much in love as when they first met. 

Best known for her success as a country music singer and commitment as a philanthropist, Dolly Parton has won hearts throughout her career. And having recently revealed the surprising reason she always wears makeup to bed, it's clear Dolly's not afraid to share sweet personal details. This includes intriguing insights into her marriage to her husband Carl Thomas Dean. From meeting on her very first day in Nashville to inspiring some of her catchiest hits, Dolly Parton’s husband has been by her side throughout it all, remaining outsight of the limelight.

Here we reveal all you need to know about Carl Thomas Dean and their historic relationship.

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Dolly Parton’s husband is Carl Thomas Dean 

Dolly Parton’s husband Carl Thomas Dean was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, where he is understood to have owned a successful asphalt laying company from as far back as 1977. The couple live in Nashville to this day, though the former businessman is said to have now retired. 

Whilst Dolly continues to excite crowds with her performances, Carl instead prefers to live a quiet life out of the limelight and very little is known about him to this day. This hasn’t stopped Dolly from sharing some adorable insights over the years, though. The country music star previously revealed her husband enjoys sightseeing, but home is truly where the heart is. 

Dolly Parton performs on the Pyramid stage during day three of the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm

(Image credit: Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

“He loves to go on vacation or on little trips, but he doesn’t want to be gone a long time,” she told PEOPLE back in 2015. “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,” she explained, reflecting on how the age-old saying of ‘opposites attract’ definitely applies to them.

“They say that opposites attract, and it’s true,” Dolly said. “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.”

After so many years together, it’s wonderful to think that while many of Dolly's fans are likely still a little intrigued by Carl, Dolly Parton’s husband often also surprises her.

They got married in 1966 

Dolly Parton married her husband Carl Thomas Dean at a church in Georgia in 1966. At the time the singer was just 20 and Carl 23.The only people understood to have been in attendance on this special day aside from the bride and groom were Dolly’s mother, Avie Lee, and the preacher who officiated, as well as his wife. 

Having begun her ascent to country music superstardom with her first solo hit, Dumb Blonde, rising in the charts, the concerns of her record company, Monument, were reportedly behind their decision to elope and have such a small wedding. 

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As reported by People, the record company allegedly preferred her to stay unmarried, but Dolly was not to be stopped.

“We’d already sent out invitations and so I thought, ‘I ain’t waiting!’” she told the publication. “We went that same weekend to Ringgold, Georgia in a little church. I had a little white dress and little flowers, and my mom went with me.”

55 years later, their enduring marriage is a wonderful testament to their undying love for one another across the decades.

They’d been dating for 2 years 

Dolly Parton met her husband Carl Thomas Dean back in 1964 and whilst their elopement was certainly a story sure to have entertained fans, the sweet tale of how they met is what classic romantic movies are made of. The couple met outside the Wishy Washy laundromat in Nashville, when she was 18 and he 21 and she caught his eye when he drove past in his pick-up truck. 

This chance meeting was made all the more extraordinary given that it was Dolly’s first day in the music city, having moved from her hometown of Sevierville. Some of their first dinner dates were at McDonald’s - something Dolly and Carl Dean were more than happy with.

Dolly Parton 1978

(Image credit: Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage via Getty)

She told PEOPLE, “When I met my husband, he wanted to take me out to dinner. He pulled up to the drive-in window and got our food at McDonald’s. We know a few little places we can go without being bothered. He only likes to go places where he can be comfortable!”

From there their relationship went from strength to strength and Carl became Dolly Parton’s husband just two years after they first met.

They renewed their vows in 2016 

Dolly Parton and her husband’s wedding might have been a simple affair, but their vow renewal in 2016 was anything but as they celebrated 50 years of marriage. 

“I never really felt like I had the wedding that we really wanted,” she told PEOPLE. “He got all dressed up and I got all dressed up. Fifty years is a long time for anything, and I felt that we needed to do something to commemorate this. It’s been a good 50 years and I don’t know how many more years we’ll have left.”

Country music recording artist Dolly Parton performs on stage during the 'Pure & Simple' tour

(Image credit: Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

Their vow renewal took place over Memorial Day weekend in Carl’s hometown of Nashville. It was here that Dolly Parton’s husband gave a glowing declaration of love towards his wife as he reportedly spoke about the first moment they met all those years ago.

"My first thought was 'I'm gonna marry that girl,'" he revealed. "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’s 2016 album, Pure & Simple, was inspired by their marriage 

Dolly Parton’s husband and their life together inspired Dolly Parton’s 2016 album, Pure & Simple. During an interview with Rolling Stone that year, she reportedly explained how the album came to life as a result of their relationship. 

"I was just trying to think about all the different colors of love through the years," Dolly revealed. “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?'"

And that’s not all as when Dolly and Carl Dean renewed their vows that same year, she wrote a special song for the occasion that was also included on the album. Forever Love became their wedding song and Dolly sang it to Carl at their ceremony.

Dolly Parton’s husband also inspired her 1973 hit Jolene 

As reported by Country Living, Dolly Parton’s husband partly inspired one of her greatest known hits from her entire career - the song Jolene. The song apparently referred to a bank teller with red hair who had been flirting with Carl Dean whenever he came into the bank in the early stages of his and Dolly’s marriage. However, the name Jolene itself came from another source entirely as it was reportedly the name of a beautiful red-haired little girl who asked her for an autograph after one of her concerts.

Dolly Parton’s husband walked the red carpet for the first and last time in 1966

Dolly Parton’s husband may prefer to keep things private, but he has walked the red carpet with his famous wife once during their marriage. The occasion took place back in 1966 when Dolly was honored with a song-writing award for Put It Off Until Tomorrow. 

According to Oprah Daily, Dolly reflected that, "This was my first big record. 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.”

Dolly Parton attends the Los Angeles premiere of "Joyful Noise"

(Image credit: Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic via Getty)

It was afterwards, she added, that Carl turned to her 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!'"

And she seems not to have done as this dinner marked the first and last time Dolly Parton’s husband took to the red carpet.

Dolly recreated her famous Playboy photo for Carl in 2021 

In honor of Carl’s birthday on July 19, Dolly recreated her iconic 1978 playboy photo and shared it across her social media accounts. Dressed in a black strapless bustier, complete with a pink sequin collar and white bow tie, she captioned the birthday tribute video simply, ‘It’s always #HotGirlSummer for my husband, Carl. Happy birthday my love!’

Elaborating on her surprising costume choice to fans who might not have been aware of her 1978 original look, Dolly explained, “You’re probably wondering why I’m dressed like this. Well, it’s for my husband’s birthday.

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"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.

Dolly went on, "I was trying to think of something to do to make him happy. He still thinks I’m a hot chick after 57 years and I’m not gonna try to talk him out of that and I hope he agrees with me too."

The star then explained that she has had a new photo taken of herself, recreating her original Playboy cover. As the video continues, an excited Dolly can be seen presenting Carl with a framed picture of both pictures. Though he can only be seen from behind, Carl will no doubt have been delighted with his birthday gift.

Why you won't see pictures of Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean together

Despite being married for over five decades, fans might be disappointed to discover that there are virtually no pictures of the long-term couple together. This is because Dolly Parton’s husband Carl Thomas Dean is famous for his desire to stay out of the spotlight. So much so, that in the past, fans have even begun to speculate whether or not he truly exists! 

Expanding upon this during an interview with ET last year, Dolly shared, “A lot of people have thought that through the years, because he does not want to be in the spotlight at all.”

Dolly Parton attends the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards

(Image credit: Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for TheWrap)

"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.”

She continued, "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. "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.”

So whilst fans might be eager to get a glimpse of the man who captured her heart, it seems we won’t be seeing many more photos of Dolly Parton’s husband anytime soon!

Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!