John Denver

December 31, 1943 - October 12, 1997
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  • Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. in Roswell, New Mexico, John Denver was a 1970s music icon. His music was difficult to classify, touching Pop, Country, and Folk genres. Regardless of how they were classified, Denver was responsible for some of the most enduring songs of the '70s including, "Take Me Home Country Roads" and "Rocky Mountain High."
  • Denver was part of a military family, often on the move, and while his parents did not agree with his choice to pursue a career in music after high school, they did support him. He said in a 1976 interview with Melody Maker, "They gave me the space to be who I am, even though they didn't understand and disagreed. My parents did that for me and that's the greatest gift anyone has given me in my life."
  • Denver broke into the music business as a folk singer, most notably as a member of the Chad Mitchell Trio. It was the manager of the group, Milt Okun, who took Denver's song, "Leaving On A Jet Plane," to Peter, Paul and Mary. The song became a #1 hit for the group in 1970 - their only #1 song and the biggest hit of their career. The success of the song gave Denver some exposure and allowed him to pursue his solo career, which began with the release of the album Rhymes and Reasons in 1969. He followed up with Whose Garden is This and Take Me to Tomorrow in 1970.
  • "Take Me Home, Country Roads" almost never happened. The song's co-writer, Bill Danoff, said in an interview with NPR in 2011 that Denver had been in a car accident in Washington, D.C. the night he first heard the song and almost did not stop by Danoff's apartment, as planned. Danoff and his girlfriend and writing partner, Taffy Nivert, had written the song for Johnny Cash in hopes of landing a big record deal. Denver ended up recording the song, which was released on his 1971 album Poems, Prayers, and Promises and Danoff eventually wrote 12 more songs for him.
  • Denver followed up the success of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" with "Rocky Mountain High" in 1972. Although not a native, Denver proclaimed Colorado to be his favorite state and the song is an ode to the Rocky Mountain State. Some radio stations initially banned the song, erroneously thinking it referred to marijuana. Denver’s success carried him through the 1970s with other hit singles including "Annie's Song," "Sunshine On My Shoulders," and "Thank God, I'm a Country Boy."
  • He won the Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year Award in 1975, much to the disgust of 1974's winner, Charlie Rich. As Denver accepted the award via satellite, Rich infamously burned the envelope that contained the announcement.
  • Denver guest hosted The Tonight Show many times, hosted the Grammy Awards five times in the 1970s and 1980s, and starred in Oh, God opposite George Burns in 1977.
  • Denver's final years were marked by political activism and work in humanitarian causes, including an interest in environmental conservation and the AIDS crisis. He was also an avid pilot and in a 1984 radio interview said it was one of his favorite things to do. In 1989, Denver was piloting a bi-plane in northern Arizona and walked away unhurt when the plane spun around while taxiing at the airport. On October 12, 1997, Denver died when his two-seat light plane crashed off the coast of California, near Monterey Bay.
  • The Belgian composer Jacques Brel was his favorite songwriter. "He's written so many songs I wished I'd written, that it really ticks me off," Denver said.
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