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I will never forget the day, October 13, 1997. I had waited and waited and listened to the radio and watched t.v. to find out who had been piloting John’s long EZ plane on

October 12, 1997. I silently listened when the broadcast was read, "It is with deep regret that I must announce that the internationally known singer, composer, and actor

John Denver, died as a result of an airplane crash off the California coast." No words can describe the feelings I had at that moment and for many more months to pass.

Below you will find words spoken by John Denver, and words spoken about John Denver as his life is told in the VH1 Documentary aired October 11, 1998 by Gay Rosenthal Productions.




The Life and Times of a Pop Music Phenomenon - John Denver

Behind the Music

VH1 Documentary



John Denver lost his life on October 12, 1997 when the plane he was piloting fell from the sky. He had been in the process of reclaiming his optimism and was flying towards a brighter future.

Ron Deutschendorf, brother - "John had another time coming. Things were just starting to really click."

Photo by Val Nestrick Erma Deutschendorf, mother - "I talked to John on Saturday morning before he went to California, and he said he would call me on Sunday. And then - I didn’t get the phone call."

Hal Thau, Manager/Partner - What Frank Sinatra was in the 40’s, and Elvis Presley was in the 50’s, and the Beetles in the 60’s, John was in the 70’s.

Lyle Lovett, friend - John was who you saw on stage. That was John. He was so genuine."


The image is indelible...The sweet singing rocky mountain folk poet with granny glasses and a mop of long blond hair. John Denver dominated 70’s pop culture flying high on records, television, and film. Then in 1997, his image once again flashed across t.v. screens around the world. John Denver was dead at 53. Six days after his death, a memorial was held in his home state of Colorado. 1,500 mourners showed up to say good-bye to John Denver.

Ron Deutschendorf - "John is here with us...anytime you go outside in these hills, he’ll be around."

Photo by Val Nestrick Annie Denver - "There was a struggle within John between the love he felt he could give the world and that he gave to his friends and family."


Cassandra Delaney Denver - "He was my husband, my friend, and my teacher. May his spirit soar and finally be free."



Henry John Deutschendorf was born to Erma and Dutch Deutschendorf on December 31, 1943. Dutch was an air force pilot and the military kept them on the move. The family lived in four different states and Japan before arriving in Fort Worth, Texas in 1958. As a young boy, John was given his first guitar.

John Denver - "It belonged to my grandmother. It’s the guitar that she played when she was a little girl, and she gave it to me when I was about 12 years old, and it’s the guitar that I learned how to play on."

Erma Deutschendorf - He played the guitar before he went to school and he’d play it when he came home, and my father always said he wasn’t going to amount to anything...all he wanted to do was play that guitar."


jdguitar.jpg (22651 bytes) MUSIC WAS JOHN’S WAY OF MAKING FRIENDS

John found that making music helped him make friends wherever he went.

John Denver 1985 - "And it always worked that way in new, difficult and insecure situations. I’d bring out my guitar and sing a song, and all of a sudden, a lot of things that made you feel apart or distant would disappear."

But John’s dad wanted his son to build a more stable future. So by 1963, 19 year old John was a junior at Texas Tech University studying architecture. But John decided to take a chance on music. He quit school, took his guitar and what little money he had and went to Los Angeles in 1964.

Dianne Sparks - folk club owner with husband Randy - "He was so great that people just loved him." I called Randy and said, "you’ve gotta come down and see this boy, he’s a really good guitarist. Randy the people just love him!" John was hired on the spot and Randy and Dianne let him move in with them. Randy gave John Deutschendorf the new name, John Denver. He then went to Capitol Records and got advance money for the new John Denver to record a new 4 song demo. John was dropped from the label, but he soon seized on another opportunity. Folk singer, Chad Mitchell, had recently quit his well established group and the trio was looking for a replacement.

Milt Okun - arranger/record producer - "I had listened to dozens and dozens of singers. He had just what was perfect for a folk singer, a command of lyrics, a beautiful voice."

John also made an impression on Hal Thau.

Hal Thau - the trio’s business manager - "There was this integrity about him that just resonated from him." The Mitchell trio now featuring John Denver, played coffee houses, hootenanny’s and colleges. John enjoyed his new-found success, and he found someone to share it with when he fell in love with a 19 year old Minnesota girl named Annie Martell. On June 9, 1967, John married Annie. John’s dreams were coming true.


John Denver had his first hit song in 1969 when Peter, Paul and Mary’s cover of Leaving on a Jet Plane went to number one. But the 26 year old folksinger was still relatively unknown. In the next 3 years, he would become a household name. As the 60’s drew to a close, the folk music revival was fading. By 1970, the Mitchell trio was history. John found himself flying solo. While John homed his solo act in coffee houses and cabarets, Milt Okun was busy trying to land him a record deal. John continued to tour as Annie stayed home in Minnesota. Finally, John got the break he needed when Milt Okun scored a record deal at RCA. John was given 4 album guarantees. John made a hit with his fourth album, Take Me Home Country Roads, released in spring of 1971. By now,

Jerry Weintraub had joined the team as John’s personal manager. John and Annie now moved to Colorado.


John Denver - "It is simply the most beautiful place that I’ve ever seen in my life. From the time that I first got to Aspen, all of a sudden for the first time in my life, I felt at home."

Annie Denver - "Nature was his best and truest friend. He was at his most peaceful, he could be quiet and just breathe with the earth."

The song, Rocky Mountain High, reflected John’s growing spiritual connection with nature and the rugged peaks of Aspen. Released in September, 1972, it was a towering hit.

Lyle Lovett - "John made it ok to play acoustic music on the radio, for acoustic music to be pop music."

John’s phenomenal record sales meant more concerts and bigger crowds. John found comfort and renewed strength with Annie at home.

Annie Denver - "John would come home off the road and let his beard grow out and slop around in his pajamas and slippers, he was kind of a basic guy."


Domestic bliss inspired the title song of John’s next album and in 1974, "Back home Again" became the best selling album in the world. In the mid ‘70’s nobody sold more records than John Denver! John’s music and wholesome image were appealing to television viewers and when the John Denver Show made its debut in 1974, a t.v. star was born.

Jerry Weintraub - "John was fun, he was not threatening, he was bright, that’s why he was a t.v. star."

For the next three years, John’s ratings and record sales soared, then in 1977 his career reached its peak. John was a hit with critics and movie-goers alike in the comedy smash "Oh God" co-starring the legendary George Burns as the Supreme Being. For the moment, John Denver was the biggest pop star of them all.


John Denver soared throughout the 1970’s with an incredible string of five gold and eight platinum albums. Whether on records or on screen, the public enjoyed and identified with just about everything John Denver did. But John had few fans among rock critics.

Todd Everett, Entertainment Manager - "When John Denver was performing with The Muppets, some people found that boyish and charming, others didn’t."


jdguitar.jpg (22651 bytes) Geraldo Rivera - "He said, you know one of the reasons Geraldo I so relate to you is that you get the same kind of rap that I do." And then we talked about not being appreciated, and I said, "Oh well, you know they never appreciate the great ones in their own time."

Jerry Weintraub - "The critics kept saying he was not good, and we kept selling out!"


John’s songs had always been filled with images of flight, and as his career took off, John took to the sky. Dutch Deutschendorf helped his son to earn his wings. Father and son often flew John’s leer jet together. Fatherhood was important to John, and he longed to become a father himself. John and Annie decided to adopt. Son Zak came into their lives in 1974, and daughter Anna Kate came home with them in 1977.


Photo by Val Nestrick Zak Denver Deutschendorf, son - "He’d say I love you everytime I talk to him. He was always real proud of me and always real interested in what we were doing. Yeah, we usually finished our conversations with - I love you."


Photo by Val Nestrick Anna Kate Denver, daughter - "Most vividly, I would remember vacation time that we had together. He was as happy as could be, and he just had energy, really amazing energy."


John was devoted to his family, but his growing dedication to political and environmental causes required more and more of his time and attention.

John Denver - "I know that we have to work with all and end hunger in this planet. I know that we have the potential to live in peace with one another without the threat of nuclear weapons. I give my life and my music to that world of peace."

Milt Okun - "His feelings about the environment became so strong that for years, it dominated his life and I could not get him to do things to promote his own records. He was off working on something that he felt was much more important than having another hit. In 1976, John stepped up his social and political activism and began lobbying President Carter and Congress for legislation to fight world hunger. Music was no longer his soul focus, and his career and his record sales slowly started to slip.

Ron Deutschendorf - "I think everybody tried to pull John back in many respects at different times through his career and involvements with the issues he got involved with. But John wouldn’t pull back, unless John wanted to pull back."

The increasing pressures of John’s environmental work, television schedule, and concert touring began to wear on him. John’s marriage began to fail. Then in 1982, John was dealt an unexpected blow when his father suffered a heart attack and died.

John Denver - "I’m not very happy right now."

John and Annie finally called it quits. John’s album sales declined, and his new songs were no longer hits. John’s life and career were in a tail spin.


Through the hard times, John continued to perform all over the world. During a 1986 tour of Australia, John’s life brightened when he met Cassandra Delaney. After two years of dating, they were married. A year later, she gave birth to Jesse Belle. John still was spending time with political causes and putting pressure on himself. After five years of marriage, their divorce became final in 1993.


In 1997, friends and family noted an upbeat change in his mood. He was about to sign a new record deal and was set to kick off a concert tour beginning in 1998.

Ron Deutschendorf - "John was in a situation where he was about to have a record deal for the first time with a major label. His personal life was settled. He was happy with everything that was going on around him."

Geraldo Rivera - "He had pulled himself out of his personal nose-dive. He was soaring in another way."


An experienced pilot, John was especially happy to be back soaring in the sky. In the fall of 1997, he bought a new toy, an experimental plane called a Long EZ. On the morning of October 12, 1997, John had just finished a round of golf with some friends in Monterey.

Ron Deutschendorf - "John had decided he was going to go get in a plane and buzz Clint Eastwood, his buddy Clint, with his new plane. And so he does some touch and gos, and he was going to go buzz Clint."

Eyewitnesses reported that there was nothing extraordinary about John’s flight that autumn afternoon. But then shortly after 5pm, the plane with pilot John Denver aboard fell from the sky and plunged into the Pacific Ocean.

Zak Denver - "My mom called and she told me, and actually as soon as she told me, I saw it on t.v. And I was just devastated, I couldn’t believe it."

Cassandra Delaney Denver - "Someone came up to me and said I had to come to the phone. And I knew something terrible had happened."

Geraldo Rivera - "I kind of let out a kind of a half of a scream, shriek, kind of a belly blow in boxing, and I just thought "oh gee, just why?"

Erma Deutschendorf - "I was by myself and got a call. This was about 9 o’clock at night, and this girl said there’s been an accident. When they said it that way - I knew it was John. He was too young to die."


Lyle Lovett - "The thing to appreciate about John’s music is its sincerity whether he was writing about the natural world, or he was writing about a relationship with someone. It had the same quality of sincerity, of hope, of love."

Hal Thau - "The saddest thing in my life is that I’ll never be able to hear him sing live again. But the other part of it, is that I’m dedicated to preserving his legacy and seeing that his music gets out there around the world."

Anna Kate Denver - "I think his music is even more important now, you know, now that he’s gone. It’s what’s ultimately is what’s really left, and I think it’s the most important thing that’s loved."

Ron Deutschendorf - "Hopefully his music will carry on, and somebody will pick up on it and they’ll start doing it, because I think there’s a lot of good stuff there."

Cassandra Delaney Denver - "I think he will be remembered as a prolific songwriter, poet, environmentalist, father, and a wonderful man. He made a difference."

Zak Denver - "Sure he was a big celebrity and everything, but he was also the kind of guy that if you saw him on the street, he would stop and talk. And I think that’s what we’re gonna miss."

Geraldo Rivera - "I think John would love to be remembered as kind of a Pied Piper, as kind of a guy who picked up a guitar and started strumming and said, "Follow me, follow me to optimism, follow me to an unlimited future, follow me." He could really have been the bridge to the next century. I think that’s what he would have been."

Annie Denver - "I am a song. I live to be sung. I sing it with all my heart. And that is the essence of who John was and is."



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