John Denver: Biography
John Denver touched the hearts of countless fans, singing of the simplicity of life and nature. His record sales still top the charts, and his reach extends a helping hand even today.
In a career that spanned more than two decades, John Denver earned international acclaim as a singer, songwriter, father, performer, actor, and humanitarian.
John Denver was born December 31, 1943, as Henry John Deutchendorf in Roswell, New Mexico. Raised as part of an Air Force family, John grew up in various areas of the southwestern United States, travelling to places where his father, Lt. Col. H.J. "Dutch" Deutschendorf, was stationed.
As a teenager, John's grandmother gave him a 1910 Gibson acoustic guitar, hoping to force the shy, young boy out of his shell. John would later claim that he found strength in his youth through his two best friends, his guitar and nature.
During his college years as Texas Tech University, John began performing folk music at local clubs. Looking for an edge, John took the stage name "Denver," in tribute to the Rocky Mountain area of which he was so fond. Against his father's advice, John dropped out of college in 1965 after studying architecture. He relocated to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make a name and career in music for himself.
That same year, John joined the Chad Mitchell Trio, a popular group in the early 1960s, but one that had also fallen by the wayside long before John's arrival. Within a few short years, John helped to resuscitate the group and through his powerful song lyrics, the group signed with Mercury records. John and band recorded their first tracks as a group with an album entitled "Beginnings with the Chad Mitchell Trio."
In 1967, after years of courting and proposing to Ann Martel, John married. It would become tradition for John to end concerts by dedicating his last number "to a girl named Annie."
When the last remaining founder of the Chad Mitchell Trio left the group, the band changed hands and names, tagging themselves "Denver, Boise and Johnson." The new group was short lived, and Denver exited in 1969 with high hopes of pursuing a solo career.
John's first solo appearance was a performance at Alma College in Michigan. He was hailed for his incredible rapport with the audience and natural ability to connect with concert goers. John was paid only $750 for his first live concert but would be forever indebted to the university that helped boost his career. John would return "home" to Alma College many times during his career to sold out crowds and an endless array of fans.
In late 1969, John recorded his debut solo LP, "Rhymes and Reasons." While never a hit, it contained one of his best-loved tunes, "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Though the song would rarely be credited properly to John, it became an international chart-topper for Peter, Paul, and Mary.
During the early 1970s, John worked hard to complete follow-up albums he hoped the public would scoop up. Neither of the two albums would receive much publicity or success. "Whose Garden Was This" and "Take Me to Tomorrow" received little airplay at all.
In 1971, hard working John Denver, released his third solo album, "Poems, Prayers and Promises." With it would come the success and super stardom that had always alluded him. Now thrown into the limelight as a solo performer, John topped singles charts around the world with his million selling hits "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and "Sunshine On My Shoulders."
John took residence with his wife, Annie, in Aspen, Colorado, living quietly as the resident musician. He and his wife adopted two children, Zachary and Anna Kate, and blended in with the quiet, natural beauty of the mountains.
Music wasn't the only thing that touched John's heart. In the early 1970s, John became a valiant supporter of human rights and nature issues. John worked to educate the public on ending world hunger, promoted world peace and cultural exchanges, helped sick and handicapped children, supported the space program, and devoted long hours to protecting the wilderness. It was these actions that would lead him to receiving the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Music Award for a "life's work dedicated to music and devoted to humanity." John was also the first ever recipient of the World Ecology Medal.
After much urging by friends, John joined the cast and crew in the filming of, "Oh God." The movie, also starring George Burns, was an instant hit and would throw John into movie history with its 1977 release. The movie going audience and critics pegged John a natural, and subsequently held many other roles, including parts in Foxfire, Oh God II, The Christmas Gift, Higher Ground, and more.
John Denver had two by his own account: flying and outer space. John was a licensed pilot and had his own Lear jet. He was also an aerobatic pilot and was licensed to fly gliders.
In 1983, John and his wife divorced. Several years later, John would find a second bride in Cassandra Delaney of Australia. They would divorce bitterly a few years later after having one daughter, Jesse Belle. After a long and painful court battle, Cassandra was awarded custody of Jesse Belle.
During his career, John had 14 gold albums and 8 platinum albums in the United States. He also had many gold and platinum sales overseas, in countries including Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. "John Denver's Greatest Hits" is still one of the largest selling albums in the history of RCA Records with world wide sales totalling over 10 million copies.
On October 12, 1997, John Denver died when his Long-EZ, single engine plane crashed into Monterey Bay in California. John Denver was 53 years old. Memorial services were held in Aurora, CO, and Aspen, CO. John was cremated and his ashes were strewn over the Colorado Rocky Mountains.