A young businessman and Nashville native named Carl Thomas Dean swept 18-year-old Dolly Parton off her cowboy-booted feet in 1964. The pair had a small wedding ceremony in Ringgold, Georgia, just two years later, and never looked back.
Parton’s mother was the only witness.
And it all started with a very simple dinner.
It’s never been about grand romantic gestures for the 53-years-married pair. “My husband and I have a great relationship,” the country music icon told People. “We’ve been together most of our lives.”
Parton, now 73, was destined to sample the dizzying heights of worldwide fame, but her relationship with Dean started out humbly, in a laundromat. Dean kept their first date simple. “He pulled up to the drive-in window and got our food at McDonald’s,” Parton regaled.
After 50 years of silence my loving husband, Carl, is going to tell it all. What do you want to know about Carl & me? Ask anything! #DollyAndCarl
“My first thought was ‘I’m gonna marry that girl,'” Dean later shared, according to the singer’s official website. “My second thought,” he added, “was ‘Lord, she’s good looking!’ And that was the day my life began.”
As his wife’s fame grew exponentially, Dean remained reluctant to step into the limelight. “He doesn’t like all the hullabaloo,” Parton told People. As such, the couple has always preferred to take vacation trips in their “little camper” than splash out on glamorous dates.
When I’m home, I spend Sunday with my husband. If we’re not cooking, we travel around in our camper, stop at fast-food…
“I always joke and laugh when people ask me what’s the key to my long marriage and lasting love,” Parton went on. “I always say, ‘Stay gone!’ and there’s a lot of truth to that.”
The country music star travels extensively, and always has. Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder? “We really enjoy each other when we’re together,” Parton confirmed, “and the little things we do.”
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Parton loves to cook; Dean writes poetry. The couple never had children together, though Parton is godmother to Miley Cyrus. But they are happy with their lot, Parton told Today.
“God has a plan for everything,” she declared. “I think it probably was his plan for me not to have kids, so everybody’s kids could be mine.”
“I travel a lot, but we really enjoy each other when we’re together and the little things we do.”
On their 50th wedding anniversary, the couple, still very much in love, renewed their vows at home in Nashville. Parton got the fancy wedding dress she’d always dreamed of, Dean got a fancy suit, and the happy husband even put aside his reclusive proclivities for a good cause; the couple sold their vow renewal photos to raise funds for Parton’s literacy charity, the Imagination Library.
“I know every line in his face and he knows every hair in my wig,” Parton later gushed. But funnily enough, when asked whether Dean liked her music, Parton replied bluntly: “Not particularly! But he loves me.”
“He loves me.”
But something else, besides love, has remained a constant in the couple’s enduring relationship: faith. “A belief in God is essential,” the iconic country singer told Closer Weekly. Parton and Dean, united in their shared faith, even built their own small chapel on the grounds of their Tennessee farm.
“She not only prays there,” shared a family friend, “but she often goes there to write spiritual songs. Carl goes as well, and it’s their quiet place to reflect, pray, and give thanks.”
“Dolly always lets God’s hand guide her through life,” another insider shared with the magazine. And with that guiding hand, Parton came to a realization.