Singer, Musician, Songwriter, Actor, Environmentalist, and Humanitarian. One of the most popular acoustic artists of the 1970s, he recorded and released nearly 300 songs, of which 200 of them he composed. His career spanned nearly three decades and his music appeared on a variety of charts, including Country and Western, the Billboard Hot 100, and Adult Contemporary, in all earning him 14 gold and eight platinum albums in the US alone, with his signature songs "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Annie's Song," "Rocky Mountain High," and "Sunshine on My Shoulders." Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., his father was a US Air Force officer who set three speed records in the B-58 Hustler bomber aircraft and earned a place in the Air Force Hall of Fame. He received his love and devotion to music from his maternal grandmother, who gave him his first acoustical guitar. His family moved frequently due to his father's military career and as a introverted child, he never felt that he belonged to any particular place. When he was a teenager, his family moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he attended and graduated from Arlington Heights High School. He attended Texas Tech University at Lubbock, Texas where he studied architecture. By the time he was in college, he learned to play guitar well enough to perform at local clubs. He adopted the surname "Denver" after the capital of his favorite state, Colorado. He decided to change his name when Randy Sparks, founder of The New Christy Minstrels, suggested that "Deutschendorf" wouldn't fit comfortably on a marquee. While at Texas Tech, he sang in a folk-music group called "The Alpine Trio." In 1963 he dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles, California, where he sang in folk clubs. In 1965 he joined the Chad Mitchell Trio, a folk group that had been renamed The Mitchell Trio prior to Chad Mitchell's departure and before Denver's arrival, and then became Denver, Boise, and Johnson (John Denver, David Boise, and Michael Johnson). In 1969 he decided to pursue a solo career and released his first album for RCA Records, "Rhymes & Reasons." Two years earlier, he had made a self-produced demo recording of some of the songs he played at his concerts, including the song called "Babe I Hate to Go", later renamed "Leaving on A Jet Plane". The song came to the attention of Milt Okun, who produced records for the Mitchell Trio and the high-profile folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, and had become Denver's producer as well. Okun brought the unreleased "Jet Plane" song to Peter, Paul and Mary and their version of the song hit Number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. In 1970 he recorded two more albums with RCA, "Take Me to Tomorrow" and "Whose Garden Was This." His next album, "Poems, Prayers, and Promises" (1971), was a breakthrough for him in the US, thanks in part to the single "Take Me Home, Country Roads", which went to Number 2 on the Billboard charts despite the first pressings of the track being distorted. Its success was due in part to the efforts of his new manager, future Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub, who signed him in 1970. Weintraub insisted on a re-issue of the track and began a radio-airplay campaign that started in Denver, Colorado. His career boomed and he had a series of hits over the next four years. In 1972 he scored his first Top Ten album with "Rocky Mountain High," with its title track reaching the Top Ten in 1973. Between 1973 and 1975, he experienced an impressive chart dominance, with a string of four Number 1 songs ("Sunshine on My Shoulders," "Annie's Song," "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," and "I'm Sorry") and three Number 1 albums ("John Denver's Greatest Hits" (1973), "Back Home Again" (1974), and "Windsong" (1975)). After appearing as a guest on many shows, he went on to host his own variety/music specials, including several concerts from Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, Colorado. His seasonal special, "Rocky Mountain Christmas," was watched by more than 60 million people and was the highest-rated show for the ABC network at that time. His live concert special, "An Evening with John Denver," won the 1974-1975 Emmy for Outstanding Special, Comedy-Variety or Music. He also a guest starred on "The Muppet Show," the beginning of the lifelong friendship between him and Jim Henson that spawned two television specials with The Muppets. In 1974 he received the Academy of Country Music Album of the Year Award for "Back Home Again" and in 1975 he received the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year award and also received its Song of the Year Award for "Back Home Again." The same year, he received American Music Award's Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist and the following year he received the American Music Award's Favorite Country Album for "Back Home Again" and Favorite Country Male Artist. He tried his hand at acting, appearing in the "The Colorado Cattle Caper" episode of the "McCloud" television movie in February 1974, the television special "Foxfire" (1987) with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, and starred in the 1977 film "Oh, God!" opposite George Burns. He hosted the Grammy Awards five times in the 1970s and 1980s and guest-hosted "The Tonight Show" on multiple occasions. In the mid-1970s he became outspoken in politics and the environment. He expressed his ecologic interests in the epic 1975 song "Calypso," which is an ode to the exploration ship and team of environmental activist Jacques Cousteau. In 1976 he campaigned for Jimmy Carter and was a supporter of the Democratic Party and of a number of charitable causes for the environmental movement, the homeless, the poor, the hungry, and the African AIDS crisis. The same year, he founded the charitable Windstar Foundation to promote sustainable living. His dismay at the Russian Chernobyl disaster led to precedent-setting concerts in parts of communist Asia and Europe. In 1977 he was named Poet Laureate of Colorado and also received a People's Choice Award. He had a few more US Top 30 hits as the 1970s ended, but nothing to match his earlier success. He began to focus more on humanitarian and sustainability causes, focusing extensively on conservation projects. During the 1980s he was critical of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Administration, but he remained active in his campaign against world hunger, for which Reagan awarded him the Presidential World Without Hunger Award in 1985. His criticism of the conservative politics of the 1980s was expressed in his autobiographical folk-rock ballad "Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For)." He was also critical of the Republican-dominated Congress and American Conservatism of the 1990s. He denounced the National Rifle Association as a corrupt political machine that could buy off politicians, and in an open letter to the media, he wrote that he opposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He had battled to expand the refuge in the 1980s, and he praised President Bill Clinton for his opposition to the proposed drilling. He had an innate love of flying which was secondary only to his love for music. A pilot with over 2,700 hours of experience, he had pilot license ratings for single-engine land and sea, multi-engine land, glider, and instrument. He collected vintage biplanes, and in 1974, he bought a Learjet, which he used to fly himself to concerts. He also bought a Christen Eagle aerobatic plane, two Cessna 210 and in 1997, an experimental, amateur-built Rutan Long-EZ. He was attracted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and became dedicated to America's work in outer space. He conscientiously worked to help bring into being the "Citizens in Space" program. In 1985 he received the NASA Public Service Medal for "helping to increase awareness of space exploration by the peoples of the world," an award usually restricted to spaceflight engineers and designers. The same year, he passed NASA's rigorous physical exam and was in line for a space flight, a finalist for the first citizen's trip on the Space Shuttle in 1986, but was not chosen. After the Challenger disaster with teacher Christa McAuliffe aboard, he dedicated his song "Flying for Me" to all astronauts, and he continued to support NASA. In 1994 he published his autobiography, "Take Me Home," in which he candidly spoke of his marijuana, LSD, and cocaine use, his marital infidelities, and his history of domestic violence. In 1996, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1997 he recorded a children's train album for Sony Wonder, titled "All Aboard!" which consisted of old-fashioned swing, big band, folk, bluegrass, and gospel styles of music woven into a theme of railroad songs. The album won him a posthumous Best Musical Album For Children Grammy Award, which was his only Grammy. He was first married to Annie Martell and following the success of "Rocky Mountain High," he purchased a residence in Aspen, Colorado and owned one home in Aspen continuously until his death. He and his first wife divorced in 1982 and the ensuing property settlement caused him to become so enraged he nearly choked his ex-wife, then used a chainsaw to cut the marital bed in half. He married actress Cassandra Delaney in 1988 and they separated in 1991, divorcing in 1993. In 1993 he pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge, and was placed on probation. The following year, while still on probation, he was again charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence after crashing his Porsche into a tree in Aspen. In 1996 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decided that he could no longer fly a plane due to medical disqualification for failure to abstain from alcohol, a condition that the FAA had imposed in October 1995 after his prior drunk-driving conviction. He died at the age of 53 when his experimental Rutan Long-EZ aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Pacific Grove, California, while making a series of touch-and-go landings at the nearby Monterey Peninsula Airport. Post-accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board showed that the leading cause of the accident was his inability to safely execute a switch of fuel tanks in flight. On March 12, 2007, the Colorado Senate passed a resolution to make his trademark 1972 hit "Rocky Mountain High" one of the state's two official state songs, sharing duties with its predecessor, "Where the Columbines Grow". On April 21, 2011, he became the first inductee into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
Bio by: William Bjornstad