Legendary singer/songwriter Dolly Parton and her husband Carl Thomas Dean have been together for over 50 years. But despite her prevalence in pop culture, Dean largely stays out of the spotlight, making him a bit of an enigma. Ahead of her CBS holiday special A Holly Dolly Christmas, here’s what you need to know about their relationship.
They Met When Parton Was 18
During Parton’s A&E Biography special, she revealed that the two of them met the very first day she arrived in Nashville to pursue her music career after graduating from high school. Dean, who was working as an asphalt contractor in Nashville, spotted her outside a local laundromat.
“I went to the laundromat, first time I’d ever been in the laundromat. Took my little dirty clothes I’d brought from home. It was called the Wishy-Washy washateria. I met my husband that first day and I’ve always joked about that, that it’s been wishy-washy ever since.”
Dean was immediately smitten with the young songstress. In a statement released on their 50th wedding anniversary, Dean said “that was the day [his] life began.”
The two married two years later in a secret ceremony in Georgia. They had to do it on the sly because her record label thought she would be more successful as an artist if she were young and single, so they ran off and got married with just Parton’s mother and the minister’s wife as the witnesses to their tiny ceremony. Parton then kept her nuptials a secret from her record label for over a year.
Dean Avoids the Spotlight Because He’s a Private Person
In a recent interview with Entertainment Tonight, Parton was asked about Dean and the rumor that he isn’t actually a real person because no one ever sees him.
She laughed and said, “A lot of people have thought that [he doesn’t exist] through the years, because he does not want to be in the spotlight at all. 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.”
“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,” she continued. “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. We’ve been together 56 years, married 54.”
She also revealed that even though Dean doesn’t attend industry events with her, they “love to travel around in [their] little RV” — when she’s not busy with her career, of course, which is part of the secret of their longevity.
“Our joke about the fact, when people ask me why it’s lasted this long, I say, ‘Because I stay gone.’ And there’s a lot of truth in that — the fact that we’re not in each other’s faces all the time,” said Parton. “But we do have a great respect and admiration for each other. We both have a great sense of humor. So, we have a lot of fun.”
A Holly Dolly Christmas airs Sunday, December 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. In it, Parton will share personal holiday stories and perform hymns and other Christmas classics.