Born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., December 31, 1943, in Roswell, NM; died October 12, 1997; son of Henry John and Erma Deutschendorf; married Ann Martell, June 1967 (divorced 1983); children: Zachary and Anna Kate (both adopted); married Cassandra Delaney (divorced 1991); children: Jessie Belle. Education: Attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX, 1961-64. Addresses: Record Company--Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., Suite 1775, New York, NY 10022-3211. Website--

An internationally-loved singer and songwriter, John Denver was also a sometime actor and an active humanitarian. In 1976, a Newsweek writer did not hesitate to describe him as "the most popular pop singer in America." His music career spanned nearly three decades, and he touched the hearts of millions with his wholesome, uplifting lyrics and country-style folk songs that celebrate the natural beauty of the environment and the joy of simply being alive. At the age 53, Denver's life and career came to an end when his experimental Long-EZ model plane suddenly nose-dived into the Pacific Ocean at Monterey Bay, California, killing him instantly.

Throughout his career, Denver wrote and sang songs exuding the joy that he felt for life, love, and nature. His clear tenor vocals and folksy-country pop style brimmed with sincerity and optimism. A poet at heart, he was influenced by folk greats Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. He took much inspiration for his music from his love of the outdoors. He particularly loved the mountains and enjoyed camping, hiking, backpacking, and fishing. He was also an avid golfer, photographer, pilot, and was known to be a daredevil. Denver told Rick Overall of the Ottawa Sun, "When I was growing up, my first and best friend was the outdoors and when I began to express myself, I used images from nature." This love coupled with his desire to serve humanity would become the inspiration for much of Denver's environmental conservation and humanitarian work, in which his music found many outlets.

Denver was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. on December 31, 1943, in Roswell, New Mexico. He moved frequently while growing up with his parents, U.S. Air Force Colonel and pilot Henry John and Erma Deutschendorf and younger brother Ronald. He lived in Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, and Japan. When he was eight years old, one of his grandmothers gave him a vintage Gibson guitar. Some of his fondest memories from childhood were times spent on his other grandmother's farm in Corn, Oklahoma. There he would listen to country music, play with the animals, and sleep under the stars.

A member of a rock band in high school, Denver continued performing while attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, during the early 1960s. However, after more than two years studying architecture, the pull of music prevailed. He left school in 1964, adopted the stage name John Denver and headed to Los Angeles, California. He told Newsweek he chose "Denver" because "my heart longed to live in the mountains." In Los Angeles, he played the acoustic guitar, sang folk songs, and performed at a club called Ledbetter's. He also became a member of the Back Porch Majority. Denver's first big break was in New York City, when he replaced Chad Mitchell of the Chad Mitchell Trio. He sang with the group, played guitar and banjo, and recorded pop and folk songs with them from 1965-68. He met his first wife, Ann Martell, while performing with the trio at her college; the couple were married in 1967.

In 1969, after the song Denver wrote for Peter, Paul, and Mary, "Leaving On A Jet Plane," became a number one hit, he signed with RCA Records. Denver would go on to release many singles and albums which would become worldwide hits. The first of his million-selling singles was "Take Me Home, Country Roads," written with Bill and Taffy Danoff in 1971. This triumph was followed by a string of hits, including "Rocky Mountain High," "Annie's Song," "Thank God I'm A Country Boy," "Sunshine On My Shoulders," and many more. His 1973 album, John Denver's Greatest Hits, remains one of the biggest selling albums in the history of RCA Records, surviving on Billboard's Top 200 for over three years, with sales topping 10 million copies.

In 1975, Denver founded his own label, Windsong Records, and released Starlands Vocal Band's song, "Afternoon Delight," which became a number one single. By the 1990s he had 14 gold and eight platinum albums to his credit.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Denver was a popular and frequent television performer. He performed with various artists, including Itzhak Perlman, Placido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Julie Andrews, and the Muppets. He won many music awards and garnered an Emmy Award in 1976 for his television special, Rocky Mountain Christmas.

In 1977 he appeared in the film Oh, God!, also starring George Burns, and later he acted in the 1993 film Walking Thunder. When his incredible popular success did not translate into critical acceptance, Denver remained cheerful. He told Chet Flippo of Rolling Stone, "I don't mind if {critics} call me the Mickey Mouse of rock."

During the 1980s the popularity of Denver's music waned in the United States, with the rise of new wave music and disco; but he continued touring internationally. He also donated his time to various charitable and political causes. In 1984, he toured the Soviet Union and recorded a duet with Russian pop singer Alexandre Gradsky, called "Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For?)." Also that year, he wrote and performed a song for the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, "The Gold and Beyond."

In 1987 he received the Presidential World Without Hunger Award from Ronald Reagan, his documentary about endangered species, Rocky Mountain Reunion, won six awards, and he performed a benefit concert for the survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. In 1992 Denver became the first western artist to tour China.

In 1993, Denver became the first nonclassical musician to receive the Albert Schweitzer Music Award for his humanitarian efforts. Nearly two decades earlier, the musician had expressed his views on social activism in the Saturday Evening Post: "People on an individual basis will make changes--not protesters or lobbyists. People who do what they really know to be right or true. Little things. In traffic, in grocery stores, you let somebody else in front of you. That's peace." And yet, he proceeded to make so many contributions that could not be called "little."

He cofounded the Windstar Foundation in 1975 and, later, the Hunger Project. He was a member of a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) delegation that toured drought- suffering African nations. He was a board member of the National Space Institute, the Cousteau Society, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). He performed a live concert in 1995 celebrating the 100th anniversary of WCS. The concert was recorded and later released on a double CD and on video. One of his favorite charities was a camp for deaf children in Aspen, Colorado.

His final album of all original material, Different Directions, was released in 1991 under his Windstar label. One of his later albums, a compilation of tunes following a theme of trains and railroads was called All Aboard. Reviewer and fan Doug Speedie of Jam! Showbiz felt it was "John Denver at his best." Another reviewer for Publishers Weekly rated the album an "A" and noted Denver's range of musical styles including swing, bluegrass, mournful a capella, and even yodeling. However, his 1994 autobiography, Take Me Home, was given low marks by a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, who called it "self- indulgent."

The last five or six years of Denver's personal life were rocky. In 1991 he and his second wife, Cassandra Delaney, divorced. In 1993 and 1994 he was arrested on drunk driving charges. Through these difficulties, friends and family said Denver never lost his enthusiasm for life. Longtime producer and friend Milt Okun claimed that Denver had cleaned up his behavior and that during a phone call the Friday preceding his death, Denver had talked excitedly about plans he had for the future, including picking up his new experimental plane. Denver flew his plane in spite of a 1996 suspension of his aviation license, reportedly connected to his drunk driving charges. However, alcohol was not suspected to be involved in his crash, according to Monterey County Sheriff, Norman Hicks.

Memorial services followed Denver's private funeral. On October 17, 1997, some 2,000 people mourned his death at the Faith Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Colorado. A second service, at the Aspen Music Tent Amphitheater the next day, attracted about 1,500 people. During a tribute, Paul Winter played "Icarus," a song based on the mythological story about a boy who flew too close to the sun and perished. Denver's ashes were to be scattered over the Rockies. He is survived by three children.

by Debra Reilly

John Denver's Career

Began music career while in college, but left school for Los Angeles, CA, in 1964; adopted stage name, c. 1964; replaced Chad Mitchell of the Chad Mitchell Trio, 1965; wrote number one hit song, "Leaving On A Jet Plane," recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary, 1967; signed with RCA, 1969; started his own label, Windsong, 1975; appeared in the film, Oh, God!, 1977; wrote "The Gold And Beyond" for the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo; became first Western artist to tour China, 1992; appeared in the film Walking Thunder, 1993; published autobiography, Take Me Home, 1994.

John Denver's Awards

Poet laureate of Colorado, 1974; Country Music Association, Entertainer of the Year, 1975; American Music Awards, Favorite Male Artist, Pop/Rock, 1975 and 1976; American Music Awards, Favorite Male Artist, Country, and Favorite Album, Country, 1976; Emmy Award, Best Musical Variety Special, 1976, for Rocky Mountain Christmas; Presidential World Without Hunger Award, 1987; Albert Schweitzer Music Award, 1993.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

November 9, 2005: Almost Heaven: Songs of John Denver, a musical based on Denver

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 13 years ago

I took a class on how to write my own Country Music Christmas Songs at Texas Tech University just tonight. It was interesting to see that information about my favorite Country Singer, or my favorite Folk Singer, John Denver

about 14 years ago

At this moment I am listening to his song Poems, Prayers and Promises. I cried missing him while listening to this song. Ever since I heard his song Rocky Mountain High back in 1974 when I was in college in Illinois, J.D. has become my lifetime partner. I can fully identify myself with most of his songs as if I wrote the song. I am glad I attended his concert back in 1991, Chicago Rosemont Theater. Looking back now, I have come to believe it was not an accident that killed him - he took his own life. I can sense loneliness of life echoed in most of his songs. John, I miss you, very much!

about 15 years ago

I miss him. He was such a nice young man and his music still makes me cry.

about 15 years ago

I am a Malaysian who was fortunate enough to attend his only concert in my country back in 1994.My country may be thousands of miles away but I can speak with conviction that he was immensely popular here back then..even till today his songs receive frequent airplay over radio and I am proud that my children can relate to his songs easily.He may have left us 10 years ago but he will be part of us.. truly a global citizen Thank you John for your eternal music

about 15 years ago

To live in the hearts of those you leave behind, is to never die! The NTSB determined that Denver's accident was due to "Pilot Error". The Long EZ had a manual fuel switch and stored gas in the wings - when one wing went empty - you rotated the switch and used fuel from the other wing. The previous owner moved the fuel switch from beside the pilots left foot - to behind the pilot’s seat! He ran out of gas and reached around to rotate the fuel switch - and inadvertently pressed the right rudder pedal to gain balance - sending the plane into a dive. He was flying at about 500 feet - much to low to recover from the dive. Denver’s estate settled out of court with the switch manufacturer – it included no longer making the switch. What we will never know is why - when asked to fill the tanks before flying that day, Denver said "No"!!! It was the second time he had ever flown the plane.

about 15 years ago

I grew up with John Denver's music and am 32 now. He has influenced my life greatly through his music, wildlife action, and through Windstar. I have been able to relate to his love of aeronatucis and astronautics my whole life also. He was able to express himself as a person of the world, and his music related to all of us. My boyfriend (also named John) and I go camping in the Rockies every summer now and next year we'd like to make it to the John Denver Tribute Concert that comes along every year. We'd also like to drive from RMNP to Aspen and see it. I never met John Denver, but his spirit is with me and is with so many of us always. I can only hope he understood how he touched each of us so personally in our lives. He will always live within us.

over 15 years ago

One of my Children gave me a CD for Christmas of John Denver's to start to replace old tapes. Such an interesting personablity and a great loss to all of us his age and his contribution of beautiful words and music he left us all are certainly his legacy. His songs touch your heart and say the thing most of us cannot put into words let alone into song. He has done this for us and left us with the songs that allow us to express ourselves.And the song Annie, when I hear it I think of my marriage and what it means to love someone and spend 50 years with them. I wish John Denver had been able to have been so fortunate.

over 15 years ago

I saw John Denver in Peoria,IL back in the 70's. The concert was terrific, the crowd responded and it was 'almost heaven' for a couple of hours. I miss his music and his talent....but mostly I miss his love of life and nature that he expressed so lovingly in his music. My heart goes out to his family. What a tragic loss.

about 16 years ago

Back in late 1978, John did a concert tour and played at the old OMNI in Atlanta. I was fortunate to have attended that Concert with seats about 4 rows from the stage. There have not been many events in my lifetime, that I can truthfully say I was totally uplifted spiritually when I left the event. That concert was one in which for over 2 hours I was lifted up on the wings of song and I walked out of the OMNI thinking that perhaps life wasn't all that bad after all. What a wonderful experience it was! How very sad it is that he is no longer with us for today we need him more than ever. If it may be that I will be granted entry into heaven, which I am sure is doubtful, but if it happens I will immediately ask if John is doing a concert there. Such a beautiful voice I am sure is heard among the angels. No, he wasn't perfect as none of us are. But his achievements for mankind, both musically and spiritually speak for themselves and far outweigh any negatives. John, we miss you!

over 16 years ago

There is no mention of his NASA award listed!!!!