Were Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner Ever a Couple?

Porter Wagoner gave Dolly Parton her big break. In 1967, Wagoner gave the up-and-coming singer-songwriter a spot on The Porter Wagoner Show. Her appearances on the popular weekly show propelled her rise to stardom, but eventually Parton decided she needed to strike out on her own. By 1973, she was ready to move on. The professional breakup wasn’t wasn’t easy. Parton even penned one of her best-known songs, “I Will Always Love You,” about the split. 

Wagoner and Parton were close professionally, but was there ever a romantic element to their relationship? Parton says no.  

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were married — but not to each other 

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner performing in 1967. The photo is in black and white.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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When Parton joined The Porter Wagoner Show, she was already married to her husband Carl Dean, who she met in 1964, soon after she moved to Nashville. Parton and Dean tied the knot in 1966 and have been married ever since. 

Dean stays out of the spotlight, leading some fans to believe he doesn’t actually exist. But Parton says that’s just the way the couple likes it. 

“He does not want to be in the spotlight at all,” Parton told Entertainment Tonight in 2020. “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.”

As for Wagoner, during the time he worked with Parton, he was married to, but separated from, his second wife, Ruth. The two split up in 1965 but did not divorce until 1986, according to a report from UPI. He blamed his wife’s jealousy for the breakdown of their marriage.  

Dolly Parton says her relationship with Porter Wagoner was ‘passionate’ 

Parton and Wagoner worked closely together, and their relationship was complicated at times. The “9 to 5” singer has credited Wagoner with teaching her many things about the music business, but that, ultimately, she was tired of playing second-fiddle and wanted a solo career. 

“I was with Porter for seven years, and I learned so many things from Porter,” Parton told The Tennessean in 2015. “We had one of those relationships where we were just so passionate about what we did; it was like fire and ice. We kind of butted heads all the time, but we loved each other. There was a great passion there.” 

When Parton left Wagoner’s show, it resulted in a long and bitter legal battle. However, they eventually repaired their relationship. 

“Of course time mellows you out, and we got to be really good friends again,” Parton said. 

Parton and Wagoner’s breakup generated tabloid headlines 

Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton at 2007 Academy of Country Music Awards
Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton | Tony R. Phipps/WireImage

Parton and Wagoner breakup (and the subsequent lawsuits) generated more than a few tabloid headlines, the New York Times noted in its obituary of Wagoner, who died in 2007. At least one alluded to an affair between the two country artists, alleging that Wagoner’s wife had found him in bed with Parton and then shot them both. 

“There wasn’t nothing to that,” Wagoner told The Tennessean in 2000 (“with a wink,” the paper noted), according to the Times. “She didn’t even hit Dolly.”