They say opposites attract and that’s exactly for Dolly Parton and her husband Carl Dean. She’s got a larger than life personality, and he’s very reserved. She enjoys being in the spotlight and he stays out of it. Though Parton and Dean couldn’t be more different, they’ve managed to maintain one of the longest running marriages in show business. Perhaps their differences are the key to their success as a couple? Parton seems to think so.
“We’re completely opposite, but that’s what makes it fun,” the superstar told People. “I never know what he’s gonna say or do. He’s always surprising me.”
Dean has been surprising Parton since the day they met. Parton, who was only 18-years-old at the time of their first encounter, had just moved to Nashville and was doing her laundry at the Wishy Washy Laundromat when Dean, 21, drove by in his pickup truck. He drove by again and stopped to warn her that she might get a sunburn in her revealing outfit.
“I was surprised and delighted that while he talked to me, he looked at my face (a rare thing for me),” Parton wrote on her website. “He seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out who I was and what I was about.”
Dean knew he had to get to know Parton the moment he laid eyes on her.
“My first thought was I’m gonna marry that girl,” Dean shared in 2016. “My second thought was, ‘Lord she’s good lookin.’ And that was the day my life began.”
Parton and Dean dated for two years before they married in a private ceremony on May 30, 1966. The couple exchanged vows at small church with only Parton’s mother, Avie Lee, and the preacher and his wife in attendance.
Dean quickly discovered that he preferred life out of the spotlight after attending a fancy industry event later that year. Parton was being honored with a songwriting award for the Bill Phillips hit “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” and Dean tagged along for the evening.
“This was my first big record,” Parton recalled. “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!'”
Since then, Parton and Dean have rarely been seen in public together. As Parton’s celebrity status continued to rise, Dean was content staying at home running his asphalt-paving business.
Despite Parton’s A-list status, the couple lives a modest life.
“We like to get out in our little RV and just be simple,” she explained. “I love to read, I love to cook, I love to be with my husband. I put on my little comfy clothes – I call them my baby clothes – and we just relax.”
They don’t stay away from home too long though. “He loves to go on vacation or on little trips, but he doesn’t want to be gone a long time,” she said. “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.”
Dean has inspired Dolly’s music over the years, including her 2016 album, Pure & Simple. “I was just trying to think about all the different colors of love through the years,” Parton explained to Rolling Stone. “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?'”
In honor of their 50th anniversary in 2016, the couple renewed their vows in a private ceremony in Nashville.
“If I had it to do all over, I’d do it all over again, and we did,” Parton shared in a statement. “I’m dragging him kicking and screaming into the next 50 years. Wish us luck.”
The couple never had children of their own but spend a lot of quality time with their nieces and nephews. Parton has also dedicated herself to supporting children’s literacy through her non-profit, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
“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. “I [want to] empower children and give them confidence.”
People often ask Parton what the secret to their marriage is. Her answer is simple.
“I always say, I stay gone! Stay apart,” she told Taste of Country. “You can’t be in each other’s face all the time [laughs]. Actually, I think that has been the best formula for us, the fact that we appreciate each other when we are together. We don’t have to be together all the time.”