His gentle voice and easy-listening lyrics became equally popular as background music and as a genuine expression of love. His music spanned three decades, and he won numerous recording awards and Platinum albums for one million sales. In 1993 he was chosen to be the recipient of the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Music Award, and in 1996 he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., this son of an American RAF Officer he moved around a lot in his early life. His passion for music was inspired when he was given his grandmother’s Gibson guitar and he started to have guitar lessons and joined a boy’s choir. But it was not until he was 20 years-old he was able to follow his dream and pursue a career in music.
When he was 23, John moved to Los Angeles and friends persuaded him to change his name to one more suitable for a recording artist. They suggested John Somerville but he decided to take his surname from the capital city of his home state of Colorado and the legendary John Denver was born.
He started to break into the music industry when he was selected to be the lead singer in the Mitchell Trio but when he started to make an impact as a singer/songwriter the trio disbanded and he went solo and steadily climbed up the charts with some of his best-known songs
- Take Me Home Country Roads
- Rocky Mountain High
- Sunshine on my Shoulders
- Annie’s Song
- Back Home Again
- Thank God I’m a Country Boy
It is this song that is Denver’s legacy; it was his second song to reach the top of the American Charts and the one which reached Number One in Great Britain. In the UK it was the only one of Denver’s singles to make any real impact.
Annie’s Song was written in 1974 in ten-and-a-half minutes on a ski lift to the top of Bell Mountain. Denver wrote it as a tribute to his then-wife Annie (nee Martell). He had just completed an exhilarating run and the beauty of his surroundings made him think of his first wife and the love he had for her.
Away from his music Denver was a humanitarian and passionately interested in space travel. He witnessed the first manned space flight on Apollo/Soyuz first hand and he took and passed NASA’s physical examination to see if he was mentally and physically fit for space travel.
He was one of the leading candidates to be the first civilian to go on a space flight and he planned to write a song whilst he was traveling in space. But fate intervened and he was unable to go on the ill-fated flight that tragically exploded on take-off in 1986.
The Fatal Flight
Denver was an experienced pilot and at the time of his crash, he was renting a house in Monterey. He only bought the Long-Eze two-seater fiberglass plane the day before the flight. The plane had been built from a kit some years before and he had already flown it from Santa Maria to Monterey. He got permission from Monterey Airport to take the plane on a test flight along the coast and he was practicing touch and go landings, swooping down to the runway and pulling the plane back up.
The 53-year-old singer was flying approximately 150 feet from the land and 500 feet above the sea when the plane dropped like a stone into the water and broke upon impact. Denver’s body was so badly mutilated all the rescuers could identify from the body was that it was male. The cause of the crash was allegedly lack of fuel, for some reason Denver had not filled up the plane before the flight.
The remains of his body were cremated and his ashes were taken to the place he sang about in so many of his songs, Aspen in Colorado, his grandmother’s Gibson guitar was cremated with him. There is now a Memorial Park at the site and a gravestone where fans can visit and pay tribute to the star.
When his death was announced Roy Romer, the Governor of Colorado ordered all state flags should be lowered to half-mast in his honor.