Dolly Parton’s Husband: Facts About Carl Thomas Dean & What They’ve Said About Not Having Kids

Dolly Parton has been married to businessman Carl Thomas Dean since 1966. As she celebrates her 78th birthday, here's what to know about her longtime husband.

Reading Time: 6 minutes
Dolly Parton
Image Credit: Mark J Terrill/AP/Shutterstock

Dolly Parton, 78, has been a staple of the music industry for nearly 60-years after getting her big break in the 1960s. Her career has made her a country icon, with numerous hits including songs like “Jolene” and “9 to 5,” and she continues to be a massively influential singer to this day. Almost as long as she’s been making music, she’s also been married to now-retired businessman Carl Thomas Dean, 81. The pair have been married since 1966, and it seems like their relationship is still going strong.

In fact, Dolly’s career is thriving with her longtime husband’s support. As she celebrated her 78th birthday, Dolly released a deluxe edition of her new album Rockstar, which she’d previously said that her husband is a fan of rock music. Find out more about Dolly’s husband Carl Dean, and what they’ve said about their relationship!

Do Dolly & Carl Have Kids?

Dolly and Carl don’t have any kids, but with nearly 60 years of marriage, it has crossed their mind. Dolly revealed that she’d “dreamed” of having kids, but it wasn’t “meant to be” in a 2014 interview with The Guardian. “My husband and I, when we first got married, we thought about if we had kids, what would they look like? Would they be tall – because he’s tall? Or would they be little squats like me? If we’d had a girl, she was gonna be called Carla,” she said. “I would have been a great mother, I think. I would probably have given up everything else. Because I would’ve felt guilty about that, if I’d have left them [to work, to tour]. Everything would have changed. I probably wouldn’t have been a star.”

Dolly recently admitted that she never felt the pull towards motherhood in a 2023 interview with Saga Exceptional“When you’re a young couple, you think you’re going to have kids, but it just wasn’t one of those burning things for me. I had my career and my music and I was traveling,” she said. “If I’d had kids, I’d have stayed home with them, I’m sure, and worried myself to death about them. With everything that’s going on, I’d hate to be bringing a child into this world right now.”

That drive to work and be successful in a tough industry like country music has been a major factor in why Dolly doesn’t really regret not having children of her own. “I believe that I know what I’m supposed to, but you’ve got to make the sacrifice. Since I had no kids, and my husband was pretty independent, I had freedom. I think a big part of my whole success is the fact that I was free to work, and I didn’t have children, because I believe that God didn’t mean for me to have kids so everybody’s kids could be mine, so I could do things, like the Imagination Library,” Dolly told Oprah Winfrey in a 2020 interview, via Today.

How Did Dolly & Carl Meet?

Dolly revealed that Carl had called out to her as she was doing laundry in a 2014 interview with The Guardian. “I was walking down the street to the laundromat, and he stopped me,” she said. “He said, ‘Hey, you’re going to get sunburned out here!’ Well, he had to say something.”

Why Is Carl So Private?

While Dolly is instantly recognizable to just about anyone, Carl has kept out of the spotlight for much of his wife’s career. Dolly spoke about why her husband values his privacy in a 2020 interview with ET. “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,” she explained, noting that she’s always tried to “keep him out of the limelight,” as he wants. “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.” Dolly has joked that the pair playfully say that her busy schedule is part of why their relationship has lasted so long.

The “Jolene” singer also revealed the reason why Carl doesn’t join her on red carpets in a What Would Dolly Do? Radio broadcast in November 2023. “Carl has never been in the limelight and all, never wanted to be in it. He don’t like it,” she said, via Southern Living“He went to one thing with me early on, when we first married, to a BMI Song of the Year [event], and he came out of there taking off his tuxedo, his tie and all that and said, ‘Don’t ever ask me to go to another one of these damn things because I ain’t going.’ I never asked him and he never did.”

Dolly Says That Carl Supports Her

Other than making their life together work between Dolly’s larger-than-life persona and Carl’s want for privacy, Dolly has said that the pair get along well. When speaking about her tumultous relationship with late musician Porter Wagoner in a 2021 interview with W, Dolly revealed that her relationship with Carl was very different from the partnership she had with Porter. “My husband and I don’t argue,” she said. “But Porter and I did nothing but fight. It was a love-hate relationship.”

Dolly also took to her Instagram in November 2021 to share a photo of the rarely-seen Carl, and she celebrated his help. The photo was an older picture of the pair, and Carl was wearing a t-shirt with his wife’s face on it. “Find you a partner who will support you like my Carl Dean does!” Dolly captioned the post.

Dolly has been married to her husband since 1966. (Gregory Pace/Shutterstock)

Why Didn’t Dolly Take Carl’s Last Name?

While many fans know Dolly by her maiden name, she revealed that she has taken her husband’s last name, but performs with her own. “My passport is Dolly Parton Dean. I sign a lot of my contracts Dean. I didn’t change names [publicly] because I already had a record deal. It made no sense. He never asked me to,” she told The Guardian in 2014. “At home, to me, I’m Dolly Dean. But then I’m also Dolly Parton. I’m Dolly Parton Dean. I’m myself… If I had chosen the name Dolly Dean… I’d have been Double D. Again.”

Dolly & Carl Still Have Fun

Dolly celebrated her husband’s birthday in July 2021 with a very special gift for him, by re-creating her cover of Playboy magazine from the 1970s. “My husband always loved the original cover of Playboy, so I was trying to think of something to do to make him happy,” she said in a video at the time. “He still thinks I’m a hot chick after 57 years, and I’m not going to try to talk him out of that.”

In December of 2022, she revealed the secret to their many, many years of wedded bliss. “We both have a warped sense of humor,” she told ETCanada. “And I think humor, honestly, is one of the best things when you’re married like that. Even if you have a problem, if you have a great sense of humor, if you say something you can’t take back [you] usually have some crazy way of getting out of it.”

Dolly also revealed that while there have long been rumors that she’s cheated on Carl, she’s never been unfaithful. In fact, Carl has poked fun at the tabloid headlines over the years. She said that he used their then pet-dog, named Popeye, to make a joke about rumors that she had an affair with Burt Reynolds. “After there was something written about an affair with Burt Reynolds, Carl came in with this picture of Popeye that he’d got someone to make up and he said, ‘Here’s yours and Burt’s baby,'” she told Saga Exceptional. “He’s always treated these things tongue-in-cheek and he’ll say, ‘Hell, I’d feel bad for any man that didn’t fall in love with her.’”