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Loretta Lynn married at 15, not 13

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.

"When I was born, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the president
for several years. That's the closest I'm gonna come to telling my
age in this book, so don't go looking for it," she writes. "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."'

Lynn's co-author on "Coal Miner's Daughter," New York Times
sports columnist George Vecsey, said in a phone interview that he
did not verify the age claims in the book with official
documentation.

"It's her book, and I never saw a birth certificate, marriage
license. It's what they told me," he said. "I couldn't say that
she was the one who told me first. Between her manager (David
Skepner) who has passed and her husband who has now passed, it was at least three different people telling me that."

Vecsey said he did not want to speculate on what the age
difference means to Lynn's narrative.

Lynn's daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell, did not respond to emailed
requests for comment.

Webb, her brother who lives in their hometown of Van Lear, Ky.,
believes "there might have been a mix--up somewhere along the
line" when Lynn first arrived in Nashville and signed with the
Wilburn Brothers.

"When she was with Teddy and Doyle (Wilburn), she just don't
tell her age after that," he said. "I think they got some of her
paperwork messed up."

Webb declined to comment on Lynn's age. When asked his own
birthday, like a good brother, he replied: "I was born a year and
a half after she was."

Research supervisor Walter Bowman at the Kentucky Department for
Libraries and Archives said in the early `30s it was more common
for people to register their prized horses or livestock than the
births of their children.

Not until the Social Security system was founded in the
mid-1930s did parents have a monetary reason to put their kids on
record.

Social Security Administration officials said privacy laws
prevent them from releasing information about any living person,
including a birth date.

Music journalist and author Robert K. Oermann, who wrote
"Finding Her Voice" about women in country music, said nothing
can overshadow Lynn's accomplishments.

"In the 1960s, you didn't have the 24-hour news cycle,
saturation of personality journalism that you have today. So what
appealed to people was the fact that the songs were so
extraordinary. Her singing was so great. Everything about her was
so refreshing and country," he said.

"It wasn't until much later that people became aware of her
backstory, but the music itself is what made her a star. The
biography, the life story was just the icing on the cake."

In 1972, Lynn became the first woman to be named entertainer of
the year by the Country Music Association. She is known for hits,
including "Coal Miner's Daughter," "You Ain't Woman Enough,"
"The Pill," "Rated X," and "Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With
Lovin' on Your Mind)." Her last top 10 record as a soloist was "I
Lie" in 1982.
--
Online: http://www.lorettalynn.com
--
Associated Press writers Roger Alford in Frankfort, Ky., and
Joni Beall and Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington contributed to this report.
--
For the latest country music news from The Associated Press,
follow: http://www.twitter.com/AP-Country

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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