From the outside, it would be easy to assume that Alan and Denise Jackson have lived the perfect life together. The high school sweethearts got married, moved to Nashville and started their family just as Jackson’s country music career took off. They built a lavish 18,622 square foot home on 135 acres outside of Nashville and saw Jackson’s career rise to superstar heights.
While their life together has been mostly full of happiness, they have experienced their fair share of devastation over the years. At one point, they separated and lived apart for several months. They managed to rebuild their marriage and now have one of country music’s longest-running relationships.
Here’s a look back at the ups and downs of Alan and Denise’s love story and 40-year marriage.
Alan and Denise started dating in high school after meeting at a Dairy Queen near their hometown of Newnan, Georgia. The pair got married on December 15, 1979 after Denise graduated from high school. (Fun fact: Denise’s maiden name was also Jackson, so she didn’t have to change her last name after getting married!)
In 1985, the Jackson’s moved to Nashville where Alan worked in a mailroom and performed anywhere and everywhere that would allow him stage time. He quickly got his first big break, thanks to his wife’s chance meeting with country legend Glen Campbell.
Denise spotted Campbell at the airport while working as a flight attendant. She introduced herself and he gave her a business card for his publishing company.
“This connection lead me down the path that brought me to where I am today,” Jackson explained in a 2017 Facebook post honoring Campbell.
With Campbell’s help, Jackson signed his first publishing deal. That’s when doors began to open.
1990 was a monumental year for the couple. On top of the release of Alan’s debut album, Here in the Real World, the pair also welcomed their first child, Mattie Denise, that same year.
Jackson’s career continued to grow, as did his family. Daughters Alexandra Jane and Dani Grace arrived in 1993 and 1997 respectively.
Alan and Denise hit a rough patch 1997 and made the decision to separate. They lived apart for several months and eventually worked through their differences thanks to intense marriage counseling. It was later revealed that Alan had been unfaithful and had reportedly felt that his wife was too controlling.
With hopes to help couples who were also struggling with their marriage, Denise documented the couple’s struggles in her 2007 book, It’s All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life.
“Alan has such a strong personality, and the more his career grew, the more insecure I felt, and the more I absorbed myself into his world,” Denise told the Today Show following the book’s release. “My dreams became his dreams, and it was all about him and his goals, and I kind of lost myself.”
During their split, she turned to God to guide her.
“I just remember driving home and just crying out to Him, and saying I can’t take this anymore,” she shared. “‘I can’t believe You want my family to be apart. But if You do, I just give it all to You. I know You’ll take care of me.’ It wasn’t that things changed immediately. But I had just this sense of peace.”
Alan and Denise celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary by renewing their wedding vows.
“We learned that if a relationship’s going to be good, you have to make it a priority,” Denise told People in 2008. “Even if it’s just getting up 30 minutes before the children do in the morning, having our coffee and being together uninterrupted. Or sitting on the porch in the afternoon for 10 minutes to catch up on our day.”
The Jackson family received devastating news in 2010 when Denise was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Alan stuck by her side and after undergoing chemotherapy, Denise has remained cancer-free ever since.
“To see her go through that, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” Alan explained during an episode of GAC’s Backstory. “I’ve been taking care of her since she was 16, but I couldn’t do anything to help her. It was tough.”
Since her diagnosis, the couple has brought national awareness to the disease. They donated proceeds of their book, Seasons of Sweetbriar, to the Colon Cancer Alliance and Jackson headlined a 2013 concert to benefit the organization.
Their faith was tested once again in 2018 when their eldest daughter’s husband lost his life as a result of a traumatic head injury. The 28-year-old was the Assistant District Attorney in Davidson County Tennessee.
“It’s with grateful hearts that Denise and I want to thank our friends and fans for the outpouring of love and prayers during the hospitalization and ultimate passing of our son in law, Ben Selecman,” Jackson shared on Instagram. “Ben was a southern boy who loved hunting and fishing and just being outdoors. His childlike enthusiasm for each new day was contagious to everyone around him. He was the godly young man that Denise had always prayed for for Mattie. Ben, we love you. Rest in Peace until we see you again.”
While Alan Jackson continues to tour, Denise has remained mostly out of the spotlight in recent years.