They are hardly ever seen in public together, and photos of the couple tend to come from Parton's personal collection. "I married a really good man, a guy that's completely different from me," the "I Will Always Love You" singer told Parade of her spouse in 2015. "He's not in show business."
Dean is still supportive of Parton's life in the public eye, however. "He's not resentful of any of that," she said. "He loves to hear about the things I do. I love to hear about the things he does. So we enjoy each other's company. We get along good."
The pair first met at a laundromat in Nashville when Parton was just 18 years old. "I was surprised and delighted that while he talked to me, he looked at my face (a rare thing for me)," she wrote on her website. "He seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out who I was and what I was about."
Two years later, the twosome snuck off one weekend to tie the knot, with only Parton's mother, the pastor and his wife in attendance. "We thought Ringgold because we knew that was where you could get your license and get married the same day," she recalled to a local news station in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Though the couple contemplated having children early on, parenthood was not in the cards.
"When my husband and I were dating, and then when we got married, we just assumed we would have kids," Parton told Billboard in 2014. "We weren't doing anything to stop it. In fact, we thought maybe we would. We even had names if we did, but it didn't turn out that way."
In 2014, she told PEOPLE, "I often think, it just wasn't meant for me to have kids so everybody's kids can be mine."
Instead, the couple enjoys each other's company. "I'm happy when I'm on stage, I'm happy when things are going great in the business, but I'm also very happy when I'm home with [Dean] and we do our little things together," she previously told Parade. "We sight-see all of Tennessee and Kentucky, the areas that we can get back home from at night. Sometimes we'll stay over at a Days Inn [motel] where we can just pull up and sneak me in. We don't care, as long as the bed's clean and there's a bathroom. That's how we live."
From meeting in Nashville to their golden anniversary, here's everything to know about Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean's relationship.
1964: Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean meet in Nashville
Courtesy of Dolly Parton
The couple first met in 1964 at the Wishy Washy Laundromat on Parton's first day in Nashville. "I'd come to Nashville with dirty clothes," Parton told the New York Times. "I was in such a hurry to get here — and after I'd put my clothes in the machine, I started walkin' down the street, just lookin' at my new home, and this guy hollered at me, and I waved. Bein' from the country, I spoke to everybody. And he came over and, well, it was Carl, my husband."
"My first thought was I'm gonna marry that girl," Dean later said of their initial meeting. "My second thought was, 'Lord she's good lookin.' And that was the day my life began."
1964: Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean begin dating
The pair's relationship progressed quickly from there. Parton was living with her aunt and uncle, watching their son while they were at work. "He came up every day that week and we set out on the porch," she said in a 1976 interview with the New York Times. "I wouldn't even take him in the house."
Instead, Dean took her to his house on a day when she didn't have to babysit. "That was my first chance to go anywhere with Carl, and he drove me straight to his folks' house and introduced me to his mother and daddy," she shared. "'Cause he said he knew right the minute he saw me that that's the one he wanted."
1966: Carl Thomas Dean proposes to Dolly Parton
Dean's proposal to his girlfriend of two years wasn't exactly traditional. In the book Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller, Parton revealed that Dean's offer of marriage was a practical one. "He said, 'You're gonna have to move closer into town or we're gonna have to get married,' " she shared.
1966: Carl Thomas Dean supports Dolly Parton after she wins her first songwriter award
Dean accompanied Parton to a Broadcast Music, Inc. dinner to watch her accept her first songwriter award for "Put It Off Until Tomorrow."
"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, and I went up and got my award," she reportedly recalled to an audience at a Marty Stuart Jam.
But the limelight wasn't for Dean. "After the dinner, we walked back out, and they brought us our car … and we got in it and headed for home," she said. "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!' "
May 30, 1966: Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean get married
Parton's engagement was a source of contention with her then-manager, Fred Foster. "He asked me not to get married. He said it'll make it so much harder if you're married with all this promotion," she said in 2012.
While the warning was enough to make Parton cancel her plans for a large ceremony, she and Dean snuck out the next weekend to tie the knot.
The private nuptials, which took place at the Ringgold Baptist Church in Ringgold, Georgia, were attended by only the pastor Don Duvall, his wife, and Parton's mother, Avie Lee Owens. "I said, 'I've got to have momma there,' " the singer said. "So I had bought a little dress, momma had bought me a Bible, some flowers on it. We grabbed momma and went back, and got married on a Monday, in a church."
Their celebration was short-lived, however, as the newlyweds each had work the following day. "We took momma back to the bus station in Chattanooga so she could ride on back to Knoxville," Parton recalled. "So she wouldn't be on our so-called honeymoon, which was a few hours and we both had to go back to work the next morning.
Ladies' Home Journal reported in 2008 that Dean waited until after they were married to say "I love you." In her autobiography, Parton wrote that his shy nature left her feeling "as mixed up as a road lizard in a spin dryer."
September 1969: Dolly Parton uses Carl Thomas Dean's picture on her album cover
The 9 to 5 star gave fans a glimpse of her husband with the release of her first solo album, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy. The album's cover features the businessman sitting on a log wearing jeans and a plaid red shirt.
October 15, 1973: Dolly Parton releases "Jolene," inspired by Carl Thomas Dean
Courtesy of Dolly Parton
In 2008, Parton told NPR that the name of her 1973 hit "Jolene" was inspired by a little girl with "beautiful red hair" at one of her shows, but its story was shaped by a flirtation that developed between Dean and a local bank teller.
"She got this terrible crush on my husband," Parton said of the teller. "And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. It was kinda like a running joke between us — when I was saying, 'Hell, you're spending a lot of time at the bank. I don't believe we've got that kind of money.' So it's really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one."
Years later, Parton shared more details, telling a crowd at the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England, that she had eventually intervened. "I wrote that years ago when my husband … was spending a little more time with Jolene than I thought he should be," she said per The Independent. "I put a stop to that. I got rid of that redhead woman in a hurry."
April 4, 1977: Dolly Parton opens up about Carl Thomas Dean on the cover of PEOPLE
While appearing on the cover of PEOPLE in 1977, Parton made a rare comment about her husband.
"He's sort of shy and quiet," she said of Dean, who at the time had never seen Parton perform. "What we have together is so sweet and good that I'd never want it to get jumbled up with the other."
The singer also opened up about whether the couple planned on having children in the future.
"I don't know that I won't have children someday," she shared. "But it's just not possible for me to bear children and leave them for somebody else to raise while I have a career. If I wait until I'm naturally too old to have children, I can always adopt them."
Parton added, "When I listen to my own things, I think to myself, 'I was the mother of that.' "
January 1979: Dolly Parton throws Carl Thomas Dean a surprise party
In January 1979, Cosmopolitan reported that Parton's band leader, Gregg Perry, staged a double surprise party for Dean and writer Laura Cunningham. "[Dean] never goes with us, but this week he's made a real exception," Perry said. "I guess 'cause we're here for an entire week, and also, 'cause it's his birthday."
1980: Carl Thomas Dean joins Dolly Parton in Los Angeles to film 9 to 5
Courtesy of Dolly Parton
In 1981, PEOPLE reported that Dean was so private that some asserted that he didn't actually exist. Parton denied those claims, noting that he traveled with her to Los Angeles for much of her two-month shooting schedule for 9 to 5.
"Carl is the one man in my life," she said at the time. "I would love to grow old with him. If he should die first, I may never marry again. My love is that deep."
Early 1980s: Dolly Parton has an "affair of the heart," sparking rumors of open marriage with Carl Thomas Dean
In 1994, Parton wrote in her autobiography that she formed a strong connection with her band leader, Gregg Perry, in the early '80s. "Gregg and I became very close … I had never spent so much time with such a well-educated and knowledgeable man," she wrote. "I let myself get completely wrapped up in him."
Things went sour for the pair while producing the music for Parton's 1982 film, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. "It was not a fun project for anyone involved … Gregg quit altogether," she wrote. "He told me he couldn't take the pressure and the B.S. of the business anymore. The joy had gone out of it for him and I'm sure that I was no picnic to live with at that time … I was crushed when he left … It just about killed me. I cried an ocean."
But in 1982, Parton denied rumors of a divorce with PEOPLE. "[Dean] was the man God intended for me to have," she said. "We'll just always be together … To him it's all a joke. There ain't a man in this world could ever live up to my husband. That's one of the things that keeps me from going too far."
July 9, 2002: Dolly Parton releases a cover of Carl Thomas Dean's favorite song
Parton included an unexpected cover of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" on her 2002 Halos & Horns album in honor of Dean. "I do songs that I just love," she said in an interview. "My husband has such an odd taste in music, and he loves Led Zeppelin. He's been a 'Led Head' from day one and also loves bluegrass and big-band music. 'Stairway to Heaven' was always Carl's favorite."
Parton said that it became a tune she enjoyed as well: "It was kind of like 'our song' because at romantic times or sweet times, we'd just be riding around in the car and if that would come on, Lord, he'd just knock us out of the car turning it up full blast."
2012: Dolly Parton writes a romantic song for Carl Thomas Dean
Courtesy of Dolly Parton
Parton told The Boot that she used Dean as her muse while writing a track for her 2012 film Joyful Noise. "I needed to write a beautiful love song," she said. "I picked my husband, who I love, and I thought, 'Well, I'll write some beautiful song about him.' "
Parton ended up writing "From Here to the Moon and Back" inspired by Dean. "It was about my husband in the movie, played by Kris Kristofferson," she said. "So I thought in order to make it really real and really touching, I would write it about my real, true emotions about someone I really do love and have loved for more than half of my life."
May 12, 2012: Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean return to Ringgold
In 2012, Parton and Dean returned to the city where they wed in 1966. "I do have an anniversary on the 30th of May and last weekend we went to Ringgold," Parton said in an interview. "We try to go down there every year if we can. We at least go every three years. We take a trip down there and take a picnic."
The small city allows the couple some privacy. "They never know that we're there," Parton added.
March 2015: Dolly Parton shares the secret to her lasting marriage with Carl Thomas Dean
In March 2015, Parton opened up to PEOPLE about her relationship. "My husband is a good man, first of all," she said. "He's a deep person, but he has a great and warped sense of humor. He makes me laugh and entertains me. He's very secure within himself."
As for the secret to their marriage, Parton said their differing personalities help to keep things exciting. "They say that opposites attract, and it's true," she 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."
May 30, 2016: Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean renew their vows
Dolly Parton/instagram Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean
Parton shared her and Dean's plans to renew their vows ahead of their Memorial Day celebration. "We're going to get married again!" she told PEOPLE. "I'll have a beautiful wedding dress, 'cause I didn't have a big, long wedding dress when we got married and we've got a suit for him, so we're going to dress up and take a bunch of pictures."
The event took place at the couple's home in Nashville. "He looked like a handsome dude out of Hollywood," she told Rolling Stone of her spouse.
Parton said that the affair was a small one. "We had a few family and friends around. We didn't plan anything big at all because we didn't want any kind of strain, any kind of tension, any kind of commotion, so we planned it cleverly and carefully," she explained. "We just had just a few people who needed to be there to make sure they got the pictures and the few things that we needed. We just had fun with it."
2016: Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean go on an RV honeymoon
Parton told Yahoo! that she and her husband had big plans following their vow renewals. "We're going to get in our RV and go on a honeymoon!" she said.
The couple regularly takes trips in their RV, as Parton told PEOPLE in 2015. "We like to get out in our little RV and just be simple," she said. "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."
August 2016: Dolly Parton writes an album for Carl Thomas Dean
Parton revealed to Rolling Stone that her spouse was a big source of inspiration for her 2016 album Pure and Simple. "I was just trying to think about all the different colors of love through the years," she said. "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?' "
Three songs in particular — "Forever Love," "Say Forever You'll Be Mine" and "Tomorrow Is Forever" — were written about Dean, the latter two written shortly after their wedding. "I wrote those back in the early, early days of our marriage," she said. "I had those two songs on albums years ago back in the Seventies. So I just pulled those out again because I thought they were precious."
She wrote "Forever Love" for their golden anniversary. "That's the one I considered our wedding song because we got remarried on May 30th, on our 50th anniversary," she said. "I thought I'd have to have a little wedding song, so that was the one. I purposely tried to write a wedding song and I thought it would be a good wedding song for anybody's wedding."
July 20, 2021: Dolly Parton recreates her Playboy cover for Carl Thomas Dean
For Dean's birthday, Parton dressed up in a Playboy bunny suit just like the one she donned for the magazine's cover in 1978.
"Today is July 20, it's my husband Carl's birthday," she said in a video of her wearing the outfit. "My husband always loved the original cover, so 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," she said.
Parton gave Dean framed side-by-side shots of the original cover and her 2021 recreation. "In the first one, I was kind of a little butterball," she said. "Well, I'm string cheese now. But he'll probably think I'm cream cheese, I hope."
Parton cheekily captioned the video, "It's always #HotgirlSummer for my husband Carl."
November 2, 2021: Dolly Parton praises Carl Thomas Dean for his support
Parton shared a sweet throwback of her holding hands with Dean, who is sporting a "Dolly" T-shirt. "Find you a partner who will support you like my Carl Dean does!" she wrote.
November 25, 2021: Dolly Parton posts a throwback photo with Carl Thomas Dean
Parton posted a vintage photo of the lovebirds cuddled up on a couch for Thanksgiving. In it, a smiling Parton wears a skirt and a blouse with a frilly white ruffled detail down the front, while Dean looks dapper in a suit. "Happy #Thanksgiving from me and mine to you and yours," she wrote.
February 14, 2022: Dolly Parton shares another vintage photo with Carl Thomas Dean
Parton gave fans a treat for Valentine's Day 2022, sharing a sweet shot of Dean giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Happy Valentine's Day, y'all! Remember to squeeze your loved ones a little tighter today and tell them you love 'em!" she wrote.