An October 15 2020 Facebook post about Dolly Parton’s husband and purported success in moving through public in incognito mode went viral almost immediately; it looked like this:
In the Facebook post, an undated tweet appeared above two Tumblr posts (from assassinationtipsforladies and spinja, respectively). We decided to break the post down into its individual pieces.
‘Dolly Parton has been married for 54 years and I have never seen her husband not one time ???? goals?’
On October 9 2020, Twitter user @tinnkky initiated what would become the popular Facebook post above with the following tweet:
In it, @tinnkky stated that Dolly Parton had been married for 54 years. That account further observed Parton’s husband was largely out of the spotlight, and asked whether their relationship was “goals.”
How Long Has Dolly Parton Been Married?
Dolly Parton married asphalt contractor Carl Dean in May 1966; as of the October 9 2020 date of the tweet, Parton and Dean had been married for 54 years.
In the above-linked Biography.com article about Parton’s marriage to Dean, a section was titled “Dean’s taken extreme measures to maintain his privacy.” It delved into the observation made by @tinnkky, that the pair had long been married, and that Dean — a highly private individual — was infrequently referenced in the media.
Biography.com quoted Parton over the decades stating that Dean desired a quiet life away from the press, and that attention placed upon him would impede his ability to attend baseball games or go shopping for car parts. The article also said that Dean had reportedly on occasion claimed to be Parton’s gardener in order to get out of press scrutiny:
Despite his album cover appearance [on Parton’s “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy”], Dean has consistently avoided Parton’s celebrity lifestyle. After attending an awards ceremony in 1966, he reportedly told her, “I love you, and I will support you in your career any way I can, but I am not going to any more of these wingdings.” Parton accepted where her husband was coming from. “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,” she said in 1981.
Over the years, Dean has taken steps to maintain his private life. When Parton made her movie debut in 1980’s 9 to 5, her husband skipped the Nashville premiere (he did see the movie on his own). The Dollywood theme park opened in 1986 with no pictures of Dean on display, as he’d only been willing to be photographed with a bag over his head. If reporters staked out his and Parton’s home and tried to talk to Dean, he’d sometimes tell them he wasn’t the star’s elusive husband — he was the gardener.
That article, and others, mentioned that one of Parton’s best-known and most covered songs, “Jolene,” was inspired by the jealousy she felt regarding a flirtatious bank teller:
Parton says that she got the story for her song from another redhead in her life at the time — a bank teller who was giving Parton’s new husband a little more interest than he had coming.
“She got this terrible crush on my husband,” Parton says. “And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. It was kinda like a running joke between us — when I was saying, ‘Hell, you’re spending a lot of time at the bank. I don’t believe we’ve got that kind of money.’ So it’s really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one.”
The Tumblr Post: ‘Dolly Parton is Not Blonde … She Just Clark Kents Her Way Into Maintaining a Private Life’
Reblogging a screenshot of the tweet, the account wrote:
Fun fact: Dolly Parton is not blonde. All her blonde dos are wigs. When she goes out with her husband, because he doesn’t want to be in the public eye, she has her real hair and wears more typical middle aged southern lady outfits and people just…. Don’t recognise her. She just Clark Kents her way into maintaining a private life.
In the Facebook screenshot, a third person (spinja) described Parton as “the real life Hannah Montana,” referencing a Disney Channel show about the adventures of a famous singer and actor whose fame is largely a secret to friends and classmates. (Incidentally, singer and actor Miley Cyrus, who played Hannah Montana and her alter ego Miley Stewart, is Parton’s goddaughter.)
It further appeared the various circulating threads reinvigorated interest in whether Parton’s bare face was sufficient disguise to evade paparazzi. A Google Image search was largely unproductive, often returning images of other celebrities snapped without makeup on.
Bait and switch content which appeared to provide images of Parton without makeup often reported the contrary — that the singer swore up and down she would never leave the house without a full face of cosmetics. An undated post on viral content blog Distractify (at distractify.com/p/dolly-parton-no-makeup) led to the following headline: “Dolly Parton Rarely Steps Out With No Makeup On — Here’s Why.”
It went on to quote several interviews with Parton, all of which involved the singer insisting she never left the house without makeup:
In another interview with Access [Hollywood], Dolly shared another reason why you’ll never catch her with no makeup on. “Lord I could never get away with that!” she said of going bare-faced. “No, I couldn’t do that! I even wear makeup and fix my hair when I’m living in LA because of the earthquakes.”
And she apparently cares what people have to say about her when she’s out and about in her every day life. “If I go anywhere, I go in full disguise. I’m afraid somebody will say, ‘Oh, did you see Dolly? She looked like hell.’ I’d rather them say, ‘Did you see Dolly? She’s so overdone,'” she once told The Hollywood Reporter. Such a great motto, Dolly!
The second quote came from a November 2014 The Hollywood Reporterinterview, which contained the following vague exchange:
When you go somewhere public like Cracker Barrel, do you go in full makeup or in disguise?
I hardly go out much anymore. I just send somebody after the stuff I like. But if I go anywhere, I go in full disguise. I’m afraid somebody will recognize me and say, “Oh, did you see Dolly? She looked like hell.” I’d rather them say, “Did you see Dolly? She’s so overdone.”
Parton’s commentary above was the end of the interview, with no following remarks from the interviewer either. It was difficult to discern whether Parton’s “full disguise” meant her recognizable personal style, or attempts to evade detection. She did, however, say she feared being recognized, hinting that her “disguise” might conceal her identity.
In December 2014, Parton was quoted by UK tabloid The Mirror using the word “incognito” to describe her efforts to blend in in public. And once again, Parton seemed to be deliberately vague about public appearances as a private person:
“It can get lonely but I have a great team around me,” [Parton] says. “I do try and get out and sightsee and I certainly did early on in my career.
“But its hard these days as I can’t go incognito. Saying that, I do love to go to curry houses in London. I love Indian food.”
Can’t she avoid being mobbed by wearing disguises?
“Unfortunately not – my voice is as recognisable as my look. As soon as I open my mouth, they know exactly who I am.”
I suggest she could dress down and perhaps go out without make-up and big hair to throw people off the scent.
“I am not like some people who go out looking awful because I know I will be caught,” she says, then roars with laughter.
“I will end up looking like one of those celebrities who have their mugshots in the paper after they get caught drunk-driving.”
Parton appeared to acknowledge having gone “incognito” in public in the past, before denying it was genuinely possible for her to do so, owing to her distinctive voice. Parton further reiterated that she feared being photographed “looking awful,” but if the Tumblr post was accurate, it seems plausible she would cast doubt on her willingness to appear in public out of her standard style of dress.
Does Dolly Parton Always Wear Wigs During Public Appearances?
Unsurprisingly, searches for Dolly Parton without a wig led to viral news sites, and Google Trends seemed to indicate that the October 2020 post about her “Clark Kent” disguise sent users searching for photographs of Parton with no wig:
In an October 2019 profile in Elle magazine (“Dolly Parton May Look Artificial, But She’s Totally Real”), Parton spoke about her tendency to wear wigs and why — and likened her signature style to that of a “drag queen”:
When I ask Parton if she ever thought she’d be impacting runways like this, she says, laughing, “God, no. To me, that’s still one of the funniest things, when people say that I am a fashion icon. I just always thought people thought I was so gaudy. I am! I’m flashy, and I’m flamboyant. Had I not been a girl, I definitely would have been a drag queen. I like all that flamboyance. I love all that sparkle, and shine, and color.” She never tried to be stylish or follow trends, she says, “because I didn’t know enough about it, nor would I have been willing to pay the kind of money that it takes to truly be fashionable.
Someday soon, [Dolly Parton] won’t just be an inspiration to designers, but a designer herself. In May , she signed a deal with IMG to develop her own fashion line. “I’m going to do it. I’m going to get there,” she promises. “It’s one of my dreams—the makeup, hair, and wigs, clothes, all of that sort of thing.”
Wigs, of course, have always been a signature: “I don’t always wear them in my daily life, but I always still pouf up my hair. I still like to have that flashy hair. When I’m around home, I wear my little scrunchies, but I always put on some makeup and fix my own hair as cute as I can fix it. Wigs are just so handy. I’m so busy, and I have so many choices. I never have a bad hair day, and that’s a good thing.
It seemed a pattern emerged in interviews with Parton, in which she acknowledged habits like wearing wigs, but did not disclose much more than that. Parton was consistently candid about her love of big hair, wigs, ostentatious clothing, heavy makeup, and cosmetic procedures — but she didn’t offer up information about her appearance without wigs or makeup. And again, that reticence tacitly supported the idea she might leverage a lack of makeup or a wigless ensemble to quietly go out and about.
On the other hand, it is strange that in the age of smartphones and viral social media posts, it truly appears that no one has managed to obtain photographs of Parton definitively without makeup or a wig. Searches for Parton not wearing makeup or not wearing a wig were largely not fruitful, primarily returning images of Parton as we know her to be, or vintage images dating back thirty years or more.
A viral tweet about Dolly Parton’s fame-averse husband and largely quiet marriage led to discussions suggesting that the star favored her “real hair” and “more typical middle aged southern lady outfits,” enabling her to “just Clark [Kent] her way into maintaining a private life.” Parton openly discussed her husband Carl Dean’s strong recoil from the spotlight, and separately, she referenced attempts to go “incognito” in public — alongside consequent denials she could pull off hiding in plain sight. In any event, we were unable to locate images of Parton deviating greatly from her signature style (or any in which she definitively did not wear a wig); Parton said she “did her roots” for her husband, but did not specify whether or not her natural hair color was blonde. As such, the claim is partly true (Dean avoids fame), and partly unknown — in other words, mixed.