I Want What They Have: Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean

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Love is a many-splendored thing, especially when you’re gawking at it from the outside. In this new column, we’ll be examining the celebrity couples who give us hope for our own romantic futures as we try to learn what we can from their well-documented bonds.

To be honest, I want most of what Dolly Parton has. The voice, the career, the hair, the impressive—ahem—endowments, the long record of LGBTQ+ activism, the cameo in Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous…and that’s without mentioning her recent investment in the vaccine! Obviously, any human as legendary as Mme. Dolly needs a partner who’s equally great, and luckily, she seems to have one in longtime husband Carl Thomas Dean.

Just as the Twitter discourse had turned to whether the concept of a “hot girl summer” was passé (stupidly, I might add), Parton chimed in to prove its relevance, dedicating her own #hotgirlsummer to Dean for his birthday.

Of course, when you’re married to Dolly Parton, you can reasonably expect her to make you a tribute video clad in a bunny suit (complete with ears). “Remember some time back I said I was going to pose for Playboy magazine when I was 75? Well, I’m 75, and they don’t have a magazine anymore, but my husband always loved the original cover of Playboy, so I was trying to think of something to do to make him happy,” she explained. Dolly, you angel, I would die for you! And I’m sure Dean would too.

Parton and Dean married in 1966, and their courtship literally could not be more hometown-sweet: Parton had just arrived in Nashville, looking to make it big as a singer, when Dean spotted her outside a laundromat and invited her out for dinner. Parton had to defy her record label just to get married (!), but since when has she had a problem marching to the beat of her own drum?

One of my favorite aspects of the Parton/Dean courtship is how Dean has remained essentially invisible…which, I’m sorry, is maybe exactly what a mega-famous woman’s husband should be? Well, not invisible, but at least not trying to compete with her for the limelight, and for Dean’s part, he seems more than happy to chill in the background. “It’s just not who he is. He’s 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,” Parton told Entertainment Tonight.

Dean doesn’t even like to see Parton perform, alleging that it makes him “nervous,” which is quite literally the cutest thing in the world. Clearly, he’s fine with her being a larger-than-life presence, but the thought that he’s so invested in her singing career that he can’t bear to watch her put her gift to use in public is making me tear up. Damn you, Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean, for being the rare straight, white couple over 70 whose love story actively makes me swoon!

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