'Coal Miner's Daughter' Lynn married at 15, not 13

Associated Press Modified: May 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm •  Published: May 20, 2012
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Country music legend Loretta Lynn is three years older than she has led people to believe, an age change that undermines the story she told of being married at 13 in "Coal Miner's Daughter," documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

Lynn's birth certificate on file at the state Office of Vital Statistics in Frankfort, Ky., shows that Loretta Webb was born on April 14, 1932, in Johnson County, Kentucky. That makes her 80 years old, not 77. Also on file is her marriage license and two affidavits from her mother, Clara Marie Ramey, and S.W. Ward Jr., who was not related to the family, listing the same birthdate.

The records weren't filed until 1965, which meant that Lynn needed multiple documents to prove her age at that time. Lynn's signature appears on the document as Loretta Webb Lynn.

Melvin Webb lists his daughter "Loretta" as 7 years old for the 1940 Census, according to a digital copy on file at the Kentucky Historical Society. Lynn's marriage license, obtained by the AP from the Johnson County clerk's office lists her as 15 on Jan. 10, 1948.

In "Coal Miner's Daughter," the autobiography that became an Academy Award-winning film, Lynn told a different story — that she was married at 13 and was a mother of four by 18. Most books and public references to Lynn list her current age as 77.

When contacted by the AP, Lynn's spokeswoman, Nancy Russell of Nashville, Tenn., declined comment. She said that Lynn has told her before in no uncertain terms, "If anyone asks how old I am, tell them it's none of their business!"

Lynn's younger brother, Herman Webb, declined to disclose Lynn's age, although he said there might have been a "mix-up" with Lynn's paperwork after she moved to Nashville to launch her country career. Her parents and many other relatives are dead, including her husband, O.V. "Mooney" Lynn.

Certainly Lynn isn't the first celebrity of a certain age to be less than forthcoming about a birthday, but the discrepancy is significant because age isn't just a number for the Country Music Hall of Fame member. It is woven into her compelling life story, made famous in her 1976 bestselling autobiography, "Coal Miner's Daughter," and the subsequent film starring Sissy Spacek. The movie made $67 million nationwide and was nominated for seven Oscars; Spacek won for her portrayal of Lynn.

The Grammy-winning singer recently announced that it will become a Broadway musical, starring actress and singer Zooey Deschanel.

The way Lynn chose to tell it in the book, she was married at 13, moved with her husband to Washington State at 16 and was a mother of four by 18. Lynn has six kids in all. The marriage certificate shows that Lynn instead married just shy of her 16th birthday, which was not unusual in Kentucky at that time. Her husband was 21.

It would have been illegal for a girl under the age of 14 to marry in Kentucky in 1948, said R. Eric Henninger of the Kentucky State Law Library. At that time, he said, "lots of folks didn't have any sort of official proof of age."

An AP reporter recently found Lynn's birth certificate online that listed a different birthdate from the one listed in the news agency's database of celebrity birthdays. The reporter changed the date in the database; when the new birthday was used in a recent story, the Country Music Hall of Fame contacted the AP about the discrepancy.

Lynn addresses the perils of disclosing her age in her autobiography.