The country icon first met her future spouse when she moved to Nashville in 1964 to start her music career. They tied the knot within two years of meeting each other, but as Parton’s star rose, Dean kept to himself. Eventually, fans started to wonder if the “Jolene” singer’s husband even existed.
“He just don’t have any desire to be in show business,” the Tennessee native told Playboy in October 1978. “He don’t want to have his picture in the paper. He don’t want to go out to the supermarket and have people say, ‘That’s Dolly Parton’s husband.'”
Though the Grammy winner — the fourth of 12 children — grew up in a huge family, she and Dean never had any kids of their own. Parton, however, is known for her Imagination Library charity, which has sent more than 100 million free books to young children since she founded it in 1995.
“God has a plan for everything,” the 9 to 5 actress explained during an October 2017 interview with the Today show. “I think it probably was his plan for me not to have kids so everybody’s kids could be mine. And they are now.”
To hear Parton tell it, she and Dean have still managed to have plenty of fun as a twosome over the years. “We take off in our camper or go to our lake house,” the music superstar wrote in her 1994 memoir, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. “We might go on a picnic somewhere, and then decide to stay overnight. Then we’ll go to a ‘drive up to your room’ motel.”
In May 2016, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and Dean released a rare statement about his famous wife. “My first thought was, ‘I’m gonna marry that girl,'” he recalled of his first encounter with Parton. “My second thought was, ‘Lord, she’s good-lookin.’ And that was the day my life began. I wouldn’t trade the last 50 years for nothing on this earth.”
The duo also commemorated the occasion by renewing their vows in a private ceremony in Nashville. “If I had it to do all over, I’d do it all over again, and we did,” Parton said at the time. “I’m dragging him kicking and screaming into the next 50 years. Wish us luck.”
Keep scrolling for a look back at Parton and Dean’s romance: