Loretta Lynn is a true music legend. The nonagenarian country music star topped the charts for more than six decades, winning three Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, 13 Academy of Country Music Awards, and countless others. She’s also famous for having a troubled and turbulent life story, which was chronicled in the 1980 Academy Award-nominated movie, Coal Miner’s Daughter, based on the singer’s autobiography of the same name. Most of that life revolved around her abusive and unfaithful husband of 48 years. Here’s everything you need to know about Loretta Lynn’s husband, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn.
She Married 21-Year-Old Doo When She Was Only 15
Loretta Lynn’s marriage to Doolittle Lynn (whom she often referred to as “Doo”) was wild from the very beginning. They tied the knot not long after meeting at a pie social in Lynn’s hometown of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Her parents’ were strongly opposed to the marriage, not just because Lynn was so young but because Doolittle was known for being a troublemaker.
“Mommy and Daddy started getting real nervous,” the “One’s on the Way” singer explained in her autobiography. “Doo had this reputation for being wild because he drove too fast and had gone out with other girls…Actually, he wasn’t as wild as our own two boys are today, but he seemed pretty wild then.”
Unfortunately for Lynn’s parents (the singer says they “cried all night” when they learned their daughter planned to marry Doolittle), the young couple tied the knot on January 10th, 1948. Lynn was just 15 years old (though she originally claimed she was 13) and Doolittle was 21.
They Had Four Children By The Time She Was 20
Lynn discovered she was pregnant just four months into her marriage. Not long after that, Doolittle left her and sent her back to live with her family. Though the couple ended up reconciling before the birth of their first child, Betty Sue, in November of 1948, Lynne says she knew Doolittle had ditched her to be with other women.
“Sometimes Doo says he kicked me out because of my cooking, but I know better,” she wrote in her autobiography. “He met this girl named Pearl who lived in one of the coal camps. He insists he never touched her, just talking on the street and stuff. But he was leading up to it. Plus, there was this other woman who had been with every man in Johnson County just about. Doo had been with her before we got married, and he went back to her again.”
That wasn’t the only time Doo was unfaithful to Lynn or left his wife in the lurch. She revealed in her book that he slept with her brother’s wife and left her alone to deliver their second child, Jack Benny, in December of 1949.
Doo went MIA again during the birth of their third child, Earnest Ray, which was especially problematic: because Lynn was underage, she needed her husband’s signature to have the C-section her doctors recommended. While she ended up delivering the baby naturally, she had to endure all the trauma alone and was hospitalized for three days due to the difficult birth.
In between the births of Jack Benny and Earnest Ray, Lynn suffered two miscarriages, one of which resulted in blood poisoning because she could not afford to go to the hospital. After giving birth to the couple’s fourth child, Clara Marie, in 1952, she experienced yet another miscarriage. All of this happened by the time Loretta Lynn was 20 years old.
More than a decade later, in 1964, Doo and Lynn had their final set of kids: twins Peggy Jean and Patsy Eileen.
Doo Was Frequently Drunk, Absent, Unfaithful, And Violent
Dolittle often disappeared for long periods of time on alcoholic benders, leaving his wife alone to care for their family. They had very little money, and at one point Lynn was forced to feed her children dandelion greens and small game she shot in their backyard. Doolittle was also a serial cheater and his infidelities later became the inspiration for many of Lynn’s songs.
Lynn has admitted that she suffered physical abuse at the hands of her husband, who would pick fights with her when he was intoxicated. But the “Fist City” singer says she always fought back. “He never hit me one time that I didn’t hit him back twice,” she said in a 2002 interview.
Doo Pushed Her To Pursue Her Music Career
While there were clearly many unsavory things about Doo, Lynn says he was a good influence on her because he recognized her talent and encouraged her to become a singer and songwriter. According to Lynn, he gave her her first guitar and was always telling her she could make it big. “I was married for 13 years before I ever sung a song,” she said in a 2011 interview with Time Out. “He’d hear me rockin’ the babies to sleep and singin’, and he said, ‘You’re just as good or better as most of them girls that are singin’ and makin’ money, so let’s make us some money.””
At first, Lynn hated the idea. She suffered from intense stage fright and would get migraine headaches whenever she had to perform. But she kept at it, mostly out of fear of what Doolittle would do to her if she didn’t get onstage. Lynn started singing regularly at local clubs and began releasing singles in the early 1960s. Her songs began to crawl into the top 10 and in 1967, she scored her first number one hit with “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).”
Once Lynn hit it big and started touring across the country, Doo would use her absences to have affairs. He also kept spending the money Lynn was earning, forcing her to continue to tour and be away from home. Rather than stay home and raise their children himself, he hired a housekeeper to care for them while his wife was away. “That was my worst thing,” Lynn admitted in her interview with Time Out. “Having to leave the kids when I went on the road.”
She Discussed The Hardships Of Their Marriage Honestly In Many Of Her Songs
Most of Lynn’s biggest hits were inspired by the trials and tribulations she faced as the wife of Doolittle Lynn. For example, “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” referenced her husband’s alcoholism, while the 1969 hit “Wings Upon Your Horns” was about losing her virginity while she was still a teen. And “Fist City,” which was released in 1968, was written as a warning to the many women who tried to seduce her husband.
“There was a gal in Tennessee who was after my man,” she explained in her autobiography. “I was up singing every night and she’d come around to the clues and hang around him. So finally I wrote this song that said, ‘You better lay off my man…or I’ll grab you by the hair of your head and off the ground.’”
Because her songs dealt with touchy topics such as adultery and abuse, many radio stations refused to play Lynn’s music. Most notably, her 1975 single “The Pill,” which was a celebration of birth control and the freedom it gave women, was banned by more than 60 stations across the country.
She Put Her Career On Hold To Care For Him In His Final Years
Doolittle’s hard lifestyle and excessive drinking eventually caught up with him. He was hospitalized repeatedly in the early 1990s due to heart failure and complications from diabetes. He even had to have both legs amputated. Eventually, Lynn stepped away from performing to care for him full-time.
While he was on his deathbed, Doo told Lynn that he had never been unfaithful to her. But Lynn didn’t buy it, and according to her son Ernest Ray, she quipped, “Did you hear that sh*t? He’s gonna stick to it, ain’t he?”
Doo died on August 22, 1996, at the age of 69. His passing was a devastating blow to Lynn, who had a hard time getting used to his absence after almost half a century with him. “I think I see him everywhere I’m at, and everything at home and everywhere I’m goin’,” she told Time Out in 2011.
Why Did Lynn Stay With Him So Long Despite His Infidelity And Abuse?
It’s hard to understand why Lynn remained by Doo’s side given all the pain he put her through. But the fact is, she loved him and believed standing by her man was the right thing to do. She was also grateful to him for kick-starting her career and didn’t want to leave for the sake of her children.
“I didn’t need him but he was my kids’ daddy,” she explained in a 2002 interview. “Why leave hearts laying on the floor for me. I had to think of my kids. I can’t be that selfish. He broke my heart lots of [times] but that woulda broke the kids’ hearts, wouldn’t it?”
That said, Lynn added that she might make different choices if she had the opportunity to do it all again. “If I knew how my life would have been, no, I wouldn’t do it over again…. It’s been tough, it’s been a tough life for me,” she admitted.