Thursday, October 24, 2013

Remembering John Denver December 31, 1943 - Oct. 12, 1997

In the 70's, the songs of John Denver were a remedy for me following a stressful day.  I would sit in my bean bag chair with my headphones on and listen to the voice of John Denver singing "Annie's Song" or "Rocky Mountain High" and get immediate relief.

Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. was born in Roswell, New Mexico to an Air Force officer that is recognized in the Air Force Hall of Fame for breaking speed records with his B-58 bomber. He was brought up in a strict environment and during his childhood, moved often because of his dad's military career.  He was an introverted child and never felt at home.  He had a difficult time adapting to his environment and his family eventually moved to Tucson, Arizona.  He connected with the Tucson Boys Chorus and eventually found Tucson to be his home.  Soon the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas and graduated from the Arlington Heights High School after having a difficult time adjusting to Ft. Worth.

When John was 11 years old, he received his first acoustic guitar from his grandmother.  She encouraged him and he soon became good enough to play in local clubs by the time he went to college.    He took on the name of Denver because of his love for Colorado.  The idea of changing his name came from a member of the popular group, "The New Christy Minstrels" who felt that Deutschendorf wouldn't work.

Denver performed with a band known as "The Alpine Trio"while attending Texas Tech University.  He left college early and moved to Los Angeles where he often performed in folk clubs.  He performed with the Chad Mitchell Trio and then decided to pursue a solo career.  One of his first songs was called "Babe I Hate to Go" that would become "Leaving on a Jet Plane" that later became a huge hit for Peter, Paul and Mary.

Denver began to rise to the top when he released the album "Poems, Prayers, and Promises" in 1971 that included his hit song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" that reached #2 on the billboard charts.  In 1972, Denver reached the very top of the charts with his song "Rocky Mountain High" and it was uphill from there.  Other hits include "Sunshine on My Shoulders" "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" and "I'm Sorry"

He is remembered for his western shirts, long blonde hair and round glasses as he performed all over the country.  He was also a guest on many television talk shows and was a guest star on "The Muppet Show"  He took a shot at acting and appeared on an episode of the tv series, "McCloud" and starred with George Burns in the movie "Oh, God!"  Denver also hosted the Grammy awards five different times and was a guest host for the Tonight Show on several occasions.  In 1975, he was the recipient of the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year Award.

Denver was also known as a conservationist and philanthropist.  He cofounded "The Hunger Project" and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter on his world hunger organization.  He also composed and sang the theme song for the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Denver wrote and published his autobiography called "Take Me Home" where he wrote candidly about his drug use, marital infidelity and history of domestic violence.  He was also an avid photographer and enjoyed taking pictures of the outdoors. He painted, skied and piloted aircraft.

Denver had a love for flying and became quite involved with NASA where he received the NASA Public Service Medal. His dream was to be the first civilian in space. His love for flying eventually cost Denver his life.

Denver funeral folder
On October 12, 1997, he was solo flying an experimental plane called the Rutan Long-EZ plane near the Pacific Ocean and was practicing takeoffs and landings when the plane crashed near the Monterey Peninsula Airport in California. He died instantly at the age of 53.   A CBS movie was made about his life called "Take Me Home: The John Denver Story"

Denver memorial program
His remains were returned to the Parker Funeral Home in Colorado and a service was held at the Faith Presbyterian Church  in Aurora, Colorado on Oct. 17, 1997 followed by "A Celebration The Life of John Denver"held on Saturday, Oct. 18, 1997 in Aspen, Colorado (program pictured) that was attended by thousands of fans.  His own words from Seasons of the Heart appeared on the program  "Love is why I came here in the first place, Love is now the reason I must go, Love is all I ever hoped to find here, Love is still the only dream I know."

John Denver Sanctuary
Following cremation, Denver's cremated remains were scattered in the Rocky Mountains.

A memorial to John was created called the John Denver Sanctuary that includes many of the lyrics to his songs etched in rocks.  It is located in Aspen, Colorado.

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