If the '50s had Elvis and the '60s had the Beatles, then the '70s had John Denver. Featuring a bowl cut and oversized glasses, he set the trend during the "Me" decade, and his life-affirming music has inspired subsequent generations. However, such an icon came to an untimely end at the age of 53. Now 23 years after the legend's passing, let's take a look back at his rise and tragic fall.
1. Born To Fly
Born John Deutschendorf Jr. in New Mexico in 1943, John was passionate about airplanes. With guidance from his pilot father, he learned to fly a plane at a very young age. However, little did he know that he was born to soar as a talented musician. So, how did his music career take off?
2. Drawing Inspiration From Nature
At the age of 11, John was given a Gibson guitar as a gift. Since then, he and music had grown inseparable, and nature was his main source of inspiration. Due to the constant moving, he turned to nature for comfort and peace. Over time, he got more comfortable expressing himself through music. He just needed a bigger audience.
3. A Big Step
Realizing that school wasn't for him, John dropped out of Texas Technical College in 1964 and moved to Los Angeles for more opportunities. It was indeed a risky move, but John had made up his mind to make it in the music industry. Luckily, he met someone who helped him gain more popularity.
4. From Deutschendorf To Denver
It was at Ledbetter's nightclub that John met Randy Sparks, founder of the folk group The New Christy Minstrels. Randy urged him to change his surname because it didn't appeal to the public. Later John changed it to "Denver" after his favorite state, Colorado's capital. Randy was right. The new surname was indeed catchier and brought him his first big break...
5. Denver, Boise, and Johnson
Denver's talent was seen by a larger audience when he beat 250 other candidates to become a member of the Chad Mitchell Trio. Later on, he even replaced the legend Chad Mitchell himself and formed the Denver, Boise, and Johnson Trio in 1967. Trio bands were a great start for a folk artist, but at the end of the day, Denver aspired to have a solo career.
6. Skyrocketed In Popularity
Denver's solo career took off when the iconic Peter, Paul, and Mary Trio recorded one of his original songs Leaving On A Jet Plane. Many labels wanted to sign him, and later he released his first album, Rhymes & Reasons with RCA Records. Was the record a success or a flop?
7. One Album After Another
Rhymes & Reasons was very well-received by the public. And to everyone's relief, Denver wasn't a one-hit-wonder. By 1971, he had released four albums in total, making hits like Take Me Home, Country Roads, and Rocky Mountain High. Whilst performing stadium tours, he met his future wife - Annie Martell, who also became his source of inspiration for many tender love songs, such as Annie's Song.
8. Dabbling Into Show Business
As his influence grew in the music world, people from other industries started coming to Denver for collaboration. He appeared in TV shows, including The Muppet Show and the Rocky Mountain Christmas Special, both of which garnered millions of views. However, he ceased the partnership with manager Jerry Weintraub due to unresolvable conflicts in 1982. Did the departure of a long-term partner take a toll on Denver's career?
9. All For The Better
Denver was open to more opportunities without the control of his former manager. He guest-hosted the Tonight Show on multiple occasions and hosted the Grammys five times. From music to television, Denver had excelled at everything he did. What would be his next step?
10. A Devoted Humanitarian
By the end of the 1970s, Denver had passed his peak as a solo singer. However, it didn't stop him from making the world a better place. He devoted himself to humanitarian work, joining multiple organizations such as The National Space Institute and Friends of the Earth. At this point, we can't help but wonder: did such a successful man's private life go as smoothly as his long-lasting career?
11. Two Failed Marriages
Unfortunately, Denver and Annie's 15-year marriage came to an end in 1982. Rumor has it that the singer had abusive tendencies. He allegedly even cut their marital bed in half. Denver's second marriage with actress Cassandra Delaney also ended on bad terms, lasting only 6 years. The singer's private life was not as peaceful as we imagine...
12. His Drinking Problem
In 1993, Denver was charged with driving under the influence. While still on probation, he drank and drove again in 1997, crashing his Porsche into a tree. Over time, his excessive alcohol use got him into a lot of trouble, which even caused him to lose his pilot's license in the end.
13. The First And Last Test Ride
Regardless of the suspension of his pilot's license, Denver went on a test ride for an experimental aircraft, which, tragically, turned out to be his last one. He crashed into the sea in 1997. It is said that he wasn't under the influence of alcohol, but there was something wrong with the aircraft...
14. Low On Fuel
Experienced as he was in flying, Denver turned down the offer to refuel before the flight, which may have played a role in the plane's plummeting and his instantaneous death. The radio from the Monterey airport control tower did pick up Denver's last words...
15. His Last Words
Experts believe that Denver might have accidentally stepped on the rudder pedal instead of turning on the fuel selector valve, which caused the plane to plummet. In a panic, he didn't send out any signals indicating danger. His last words were "Do you have it (the transponder signal) now?"
16. It Shocked The Entire Nation
Denver's sudden death was devastating news to the entire nation. Colorado's governor issued an order to lower all state flags to half-mast in honor of the phenomenal singer. A statue was also built in recognition of Denver's achievements.
17. Denver's Everlasting Legacy
Over the course of his career, Denver had released about 300 songs, 200 of which were composed by himself. However, the legacy he left behind was larger than music. His love for nature and efforts as a humanitarian and environmentalist echoed the ideals in his songs, which surely will be remembered by everyone!