Dolly Parton Once Said Carl Dean Doesn’t ‘Really’ Have to Work to Stay out of the Spotlight: ‘It’s Not That He Can’t Be Seen’

Article Highlights:

  • The rumor that Dolly Parton’s husband wasn’t real
  • Why Carl Dean has always avoided the spotlight
  • It was never about keeping Dean hidden away
Dolly Parton speaks into a microphone as she rides a ferris wheel.
Dolly Parton | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Dolly Parton’s mysterious husband, Carl Dean, has rarely been photographed or even seen since they got married in 1966. But, according to the “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” singer in an interview she did in 1981, there was never explicitly a plan to keep Dean from being seen. There was just a plan to keep his life separate from show business. The anonymity was just an added bonus. 

There was a rumor that Dolly Parton’s husband wasn’t real

When Parton was interviewed on The Ralph Emery Show in 1981, the host asked her thoughts concerning the rumor going around that Dean was a made-up person

“I was at RCA [her record label at the time] today. . . I spent a couple of days just makin’ phone calls and callin’ disc jockeys and just checkin’ in with people and saying thanks and all that. . . and I had about four different people in two days say, ‘Is this something you and your manager dreamed up, this husband thing? We don’t believe that there is a husband or Carl Dean. We think this is a mystery that you’ve built up,’ and this and that,” she said, as recorded in the book Dolly on Dolly. “And you’d be surprised at how many people really think that. But there really is a Carl Dean.”

Emery, of course, knew that because he’d met Dean. 

“Yeah, you’ve met Carl. But, now, you don’t know. . . that could have been a ‘rent-a-husband,’” she laughed. “I wanna get some kids, some ‘rent-a-kids,’ you know and make a whole [family].”

Why Carl Dean has always wanted to avoid the public eye 

RELATED: How Dolly Parton’s Relationship With Husband Carl Dean Differed From Her Relationship With Porter Wagoner

While Dean is happy that Parton gets to live the life she’s always dreamed of, he never wanted it for himself. He wants to be able to do the things he loves without being bothered.  

“But now really, Carl don’t wanna be in the limelight,” said Parton. “He’s proud of me and he likes the fact that’s what I wanna do. And I don’t interfere with what he likes. But he knows if he ever started doing interviews and if people started photographing him and all that, then he wouldn’t be able to go to the auto parts store or the ballgames and the places he wants to go without bein’ bothered. And he don’t wanna be a star. And so it’s his choice and I respect that.” 

Dolly Parton said Carl Dean didn’t really have to ‘work at staying out of the spotlight’

RELATED: Dolly Parton on the Sweet Secret to Her Happy 54-Year Marriage to Husband Carl Dean

The host compared being married to Parton while wanting to maintain a normal life to “being on the perimeter of an atom bomb.” He asked if Dean really had to “work at staying out of the spotlight.” 

“Well, not really,” responded Parton. “I respect his privacy and he respects mine. We have a gate around our house. It’s not that he can’t be seen or anything. It’s not that pictures of him have not been in certain magazines. It’s just that we don’t build it up. We try to keep a separation in our private life.”

The separate lives do more than allow Dean his privacy. The arrangement also helps to maintain the couple’s marriage.  

“I think it’s healthy and smart,” said the “Jolene” singer. “For everybody else’s husband or wife that’s involved in the business too, it creates a whole lot of problems, a lot of tension and strain. We don’t want to be in the same business. So we’re happy and our marriage is working.”