The Confusion Surrounding Loretta Lynn's Age (And Why It Matters)

What's a little white lie between celebrities and the public? Plenty of actors and musicians have fudged the truth for the sake of a good story, a good gig, or a personal issue. Walt Disney spun a fanciful yarn of how he met his trusted matte artist Peter Ellenshaw (to Ellenshaw's lifelong frustration), Eddie Redmayne could've gotten himself killed through a fib about his horsemanship for a part, and Jim Morrison preferred to tell people his parents were dead rather than publicly talk about his estrangement from them.

Against a lie like that, Loretta Lynn subtracting three years off her real age seems a minor thing. In her autobiography "Coal Miner's Daughter," the country music star claimed that she married her husband, Doolittle "Doo" Lynn, when she was just 13 years old. Per Britannica, she long gave her birth year as 1935. But a little investigative reporting by the Associated Press in 2012 found her birth certificate, which listed her birth date as April 14, 1932. That would put Lynn at just shy of 16 years old at the time of her marriage in 1948.

AP noted in its coverage that Lynn was in good company among the famous who've fudged their age — she wasn't the first or the last to shave off a few years. And three years wouldn't make that much of a difference if some of the works most associated with Lynn, including her memoir, didn't hinge on the story of her wedding at 13.

She incorporated her age lie into her book

"Coal Miner's Daughter" wasn't just the first of Loretta Lynn's autobiographies. It was also the basis for the 1980 hit film of the same name, the film that won Sissy Spacek an Oscar for her portrayal of the country star (per AP). A Broadway adaptation of the film was announced, though as of 2023 it has yet to be produced. In all versions of "Coal Miner's Daughter," Lynn's young age at the time of her marriage is one of the most dramatic episodes in her life, and she wasn't shy about reflecting on it in her memoir. Besides pondering on the wisdom of marrying so young, she claimed to have gotten pregnant within four months of her wedding, making her a child mother as well as a child bride.

There was also a legal dimension to Lynn's claim of being married at 13. Per AP, it would have been illegal for her and her husband Doolittle Lynn to be married in Kentucky in 1948 — any marriage where the bride was under the age of 14 would have been (Doolittle was 21 at the time). Lynn wrote in "Coal Miner's Daughter" that 18 or 19 was the norm, but a marriage at 16, her actual age, was not illegal or even that uncommon in Kentucky in the late 1940s. Her caution against marrying so young still applies, but she didn't violate state law.

Lynn didn't address her lie (and her fans didn't seem to care)

In "Coal Miner's Daughter," Loretta Lynn played coy about her age. "When I was born, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the president for several years," she wrote. "That's the closest I'm gonna come to telling my age in this book ... I'm trying to make a living singing songs. I don't need nobody out there saying, 'She don't look bad considering she's such-and-such years old.'" When the Associated Press broke the story of Lynn's fib about her age at marriage, she didn't respond directly. But she did have a spokeswoman pass on a reply: "If anyone asks how old I am, tell them it's none of their business!" George Vecsey, co-author of "Coal Miner's Daughter," says he never verified the claim, which was repeated to him by Lynn, her husband, and her manager.

The revelation didn't do much damage to Lynn's career or her reputation. Music journalist Robert K. Oermann told AP that her legacy was built on her music — her biography, real or feigned, was "just the icing on the cake." And when WGNA-FM polled listeners on whether it mattered to them that Lynn had lied about her age, nearly 75% said no.