The country music legend married his high school sweetheart in 1979
Alan Jackson and his wife, Denise, have one of the longest-lasting marriages in country music and their shared experiences speak for themselves.
The couple first met in their hometown of Newnan, Georgia, and began dating in high school. After three years, the "Good Time" singer married Denise in 1979, and though Alan wasn't fully committed to pursuing a musical career then, she encouraged him to see where his singing talent could take him.
Throughout their nearly five-decade marriage, Alan and Denise have welcomed three daughters together and released successful individual projects, including his hit albums and her inspirational books. Amid joyful times, the pair have also endured a brief separation and health struggles, but their union is now stronger than ever.
At the 2022 CMA Awards, he dedicated his Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award to Denise.
"I'm probably not always the easiest person to love, but she's been there and helped me through hard times," he said. "And we've shared great times. The good, the bad, the happy, and the sad, we've survived a lot."
The musician continued, "I just want to thank her because she's held me up all these years and she's my best friend. And she gave me a wonderful family."
So, who is Alan Jackson's wife? Here's everything to know about Denise Jackson and her relationship with the country music legend.
She started dating Alan in high school
Alan and Denise first crossed paths while attending Newnan High School in their hometown of Newnan, Georgia. The Christian Broadcasting Network reported that she was out for ice cream after church when they met in 1976. The two began dating when he was 18, and she was 16, according to Today.
Throughout high school, Denise was a top student and an athlete, playing tennis and cheerleading. Meanwhile, he sang in a barbershop quartet, as his sisters shared in the 2018 documentary Alan Jackson: Small Town Southern Man.
Alan reflected on their shared roots during a benefit concert for Newnan after it was struck by a tornado in 2021. "I'm from Newnan … my wife Denise is from Newnan," he said while onstage. "We were both born and raised here and all of our childhood and young adult memories come from this area."
After graduating, Alan and Denise wed on Dec. 15, 1979, where he sang to her.
Ahead of her 2007 memoir's release, It’s All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life, she opened up to PEOPLE about what it was like taking the next step in their relationship.
“I was a teenager when I got married and had this almost Cinderella complex: ‘I’m going to marry him and he’s so confident and competent and he’s going to take care of me forever and life is going to be one grand fairytale,’ ” she said. "But the reality is our marriage isn’t perfect."
She kickstarted his country music career
During their first few years of marriage, Denise worked as a flight attendant while Alan held odd jobs, including selling cars, building houses and waiting tables. At the same time, he was still pursuing his music career and joined the band Dixie Steel as the lead singer after one of the members spotted him singing at a wedding.
In the early 1980s, Denise pitched Alan to country singer Glen Campbell while working at the airport. In Alan Jackson: Small Town Southern Man, she revealed that Glen gave her the card of "the guy that ran his publishing company in Nashville" and advised Alan to start writing songs.
"We were still living in Newnan, so I was commuting out of the Atlanta airport, and I saw Glenn in the boarding area," she said. "I just am not the type to approach people, but I just thought, 'This may be our only chance. I have to do it.' "
Denise later added, "He said ... 'Just put together a demo tape and go see Marty [Gamblin] at my office and see if he can help him.' And that was our first connection."
Shortly after, Alan recorded a demo, and it landed him a songwriting contract with Campbell’s publishing company, per Britannica. He and Denise moved to Nashville in 1985, where he tried to get a record deal, and a handful of years went by before Alan signed with Arista Records in 1989.
They share three daughters
Alan and Denise are parents to three daughters: Mattie Denise Jackson, Alexandra "Ali" Jane Jackson and Dani Grace Jackson.
The couple raised their kids in Tennessee as Alan started in the music industry. The musician became a father for the first time when Denise gave birth to their daughter Mattie in 1990; followed by Ali in 1993 and Dani in 1997.
Today, Mattie hosts the inspirational podcast. In Joy Life and releases weekly episodes. She's also a published author, writing Lemons on Friday: Trusting God Through My Greatest Heartbreak in honor of her late husband, Ben Selecman, who died after an accident in 2018. The 2021 work included a foreword by Alan and Denise.
After Mattie remarried in 2023 to Connor Smith, she paid tribute to her dad for always supporting her and her sisters.
"Among the endless things he’s done for us girls, Dad always made me believe I could do anything, be anything," she captioned wedding photos on Instagram with him. "I’ve very seldom doubted that in my life and for that, I am forever thankful. Love you AJ 😘."
Ali keeps a low profile, but her parents share glimpses of her life on social media. According to Inside Weddings magazine, Mattie's late husband Ben introduced Ali to her husband, Sam Bradshaw, who was his longtime friend. Ali and Sam married in 2021, and the following year, they made Alan and Denise grandparents with the birth of their son, Jackson Alvie Bradshaw.
They briefly separated in 1997
Following the birth of their youngest daughter, Alan told Denise he was unhappy, and the couple separated after Christmas in 1997. She explained to the Christian Broadcasting Network that it wasn't completely out of the blue because they had had ongoing discussions about feeling disconnected in their relationship.
"I think Alan got to a point after 18 years where he thought, 'We both deserve so much more than this, and we haven't been able to fix it yet, and I don't think it's fixable,' " Denise said. "So that was really the turning point where he said, 'Enough is enough. I'm leaving.' "
She revealed that the separation was hard and eventually chose to invest her time and energy into her spiritual journey. Four months later, Alan and Denise reconciled after he came by to visit their children and asked her on a date.
While making amends, Denise learned about Alan's infidelity, and she worked on forgiving him.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of answer for forgiveness," she said. "For each of us, the struggle will be individual. But what I found in the long run, was that forgiveness was the key to real freedom in my life.”
She wrote a book about their marriage
Almost three decades into their marriage, Denise wrote It’s All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life in 2007, a memoir about her relationship with Alan, in which she opened up about their ups and downs.
Denise admitted to PEOPLE that Alan was "nervous" about the book initially, especially because she planned to write about his infidelities. Ultimately, though, he understood that the project was about rebuilding and forgiveness.
“He knew why I wanted to write the book and that it was important for me to admit that he had been unfaithful, because one of the main messages of the book is about forgiveness and how healing can come when we work through problems and infidelities,” she said.
Speaking with The Boot the following year, Alan shared that he was the first to read his wife's memoir and he did so in "four hours." He recalled, "I lived all that stuff and knew where the story was going and it still touched me. I was crying and it was really uplifting."
The "Chattahoochee" singer also touched on his perspective of Denise sharing the most intimate parts of their union.
"I thought some fans might be offended by all the truth that's in there," he explained. "There was information in there that tarnished me a little bit, [but] the overall story was worth the risk. I thought it would help a lot of people, give people some encouragement that had gone through the same situation."
Denise released her second book, The Road Home, a year after her first, focusing more on her Christian faith. As she told the outlet, it was written for women who have been through similar struggles that she has weathered.
She is a cancer survivor
Denise was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2010. She told Coping magazine that she and Alan were celebrating their anniversary in Florida when she got the call.
“When I found out it was squamous cell carcinoma, to say that it was the shock of my life is an understatement," she said. "I eat a healthy diet. I exercise. I never dreamed that a doctor would tell me that I had cancer.”
Alan added that he was also "in disbelief," but "as her husband," he wanted to "reassure and encourage her." Their shared experience inspired him to write the ballad "When I Saw You Leaving” about being a caregiver.
The "Little Bitty" vocalist explained, “It made me realize how important it is to have someone there to walk with you through something like this. It was the first time I felt like I was living out the phrase in our wedding vows ‘for better or for worse.’ "
Alan was by Denise’s side as she went through radiation and chemotherapy for her two-month-long treatment before being declared cancer-free.
“I never would have thought I would be calling myself a cancer survivor," she said. "I do believe that I was allowed to go through this so that I could minister to others who are facing a similar situation and be there to encourage them.”
She has supported Alan through his health struggles
In 2021, Alan revealed that he has Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, a degenerative nerve condition that affects the muscles in the arms and legs.
The country legend explained on the Today show that he was diagnosed 10 years prior but had decided to share his health diagnosis because, in recent years, it had become more apparent during performances.
“I have this neuropathy and neurological disease. It's genetic that I inherited from my daddy," he said. "There's no cure for it, but it's been affecting me for years, and it's getting more and more obvious."
Alan continued, "I know I'm stumbling around onstage. And now I'm having a little trouble balancing, even in front of the microphone, and so I just feel very uncomfortable.”
Speaking on how they have been managing together, Denise said, “When I'm down, he lifts me up. When he's down, I try to lift him up."
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