Born John Henry Deutschendorf in Roswell, New Mexico on December 31, 1943, he was raised in an Air Force family and grew up in various regions of the south-western U.S. As a teen, his grandmother presented him with a 1910 Gibson acoustic guitar, and while attending Texas Tech University, he began performing in local clubs. Adopting the stage surname "Denver" in tribute to the Rocky Mountain area he so cherished, he dropped out of college in 1964 to relocate to Los Angeles. There he joined the Chad Mitchell Trio, a major draw on the hootenanny circuit of the early 1960s, but in the twilight of their career at the time of Denver's arrival. Over time however, Denver helped resuscitate the group on the strength of his songwriting skills. Signed to Mercury Records, the Trio recorded a number of tracks which the label repackaged in 1974 as "Beginnings" with The Chad Mitchell Trio.
Upon the departure of the last remaining founding member, The Chad Mitchell Trio became known as Denver, Boise and Johnson. The new group proved short-lived however when Denver exited in 1969 to pursue a solo career. That same year he recorded his debut LP, "Rhymes and Reasons". While not a hit, it contained one of his best-loved compositions, "Leaving On a Jet Plane", an international chart-topper for Peter, Paul And Mary. Still, neither of Denver's follow-up albums, 1970's "Whose Garden Was This" and "Take Me To Tomorrow", launched him as a solo performer.
Finally, with 1971's "Poems, Prayers and Promises", he achieved superstardom thanks to the million-selling hits "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (#2), "Rocky Mountain High" (#9), and "Sunshine On My Shoulders" (#1) In the years to follow, Denver also scored with "Annie's Song" (#1), penned for his first wife and "Back Home Again" (#5) and by 1974 was firmly established as America's best-selling performer. Albums like 1975's "An Evening With John Denver" and "Windsong" were phenomenally popular, and he continued to top the singles charts with efforts including "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and "I'm Sorry." Two more hits followed that year with "Calyspo" (#2) and "Fly Away" (#13). Additionally, his 1974 "Best-Of" collection sold over ten million copies worldwide, and remained on the charts for over two years.
At the peak of his success, Denver was everywhere. The governor of Colorado proclaimed him the state's poet laureate. His label Windsong was responsible for hits like the Starland Vocal Band's number one smash "Afternoon Delight" and he appeared in a number of ratings-grabbing television specials, as well as several guest-host appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. In 1977 he moved into film, co-starring with George Burns in the comedy hit Oh, God!. Denver's Christmas special John Denver and The Muppets: A Christmas Together is considered a classic. During this time however, he dramatically curtailed his recording output, and after 1977's 'live' LP "I Want to Live", which produced no hits, he issued no new material until 1980's "Autograph". That effort also failed to produce any Top 40 material.
Fans were delighted when 1981 brought the LP "Some Days Are Diamonds", from which the title track rose to #36. The following year Denver issued the album "Seasons Of The Heart", which contained what would prove to be his final Billboard Top 40 hit, "Shanghai Breezes", which climbed to #32. As the decade progressed, Denver's popularity waned as he turned his attention more towards humanitarian work, focusing primarily on ecological concerns and space exploration. He also toured Communist-led Russia and China, and in 1987, performed in Chernobyl in the wake of that city's nuclear disaster.
While maintaining a solid cult following, by the 1990s Denver had largely fallen off the radar, and he made more news for a 1993 drunk-driving arrest than he did for records like 1991's "Different Directions". However, in the summer of 1993, Denver was the recipient of the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Music Award, given to him "For a life's work dedicated to music and devoted to humanity." It was the first time a non-Classical music artist had been so honored. Also in 1993, Denver completed his first movie since Oh, God! called Walking Thunder, which stars him as he most liked to be, in country clothes, under an open sky. In 1994, John published his autobiography, Take Me Home, in which he revealed the details of his substance use, marital infidelities, and his history of domestic violence.
Many people knew of Denver's two passions: flying and outer space. He was not only a licensed pilot with his own Lear jet, but an aerobatic pilot, and was licensed to fly gliders. He flew Air Force F-15 fighters and the Space Shuttle simulator. NASA awarded him its public service medal for helping "increase awareness of space exploration by the people of the world." It was his great love of flying that would spell tragedy for the 53 year old entertainer on October 12, 1997, when the handmade, experimental airplane he was flying experienced fuel supply difficulties and crashed off the coast of Monterey Bay, CA., killing him instantly. A post-accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board showed that the leading cause of the accident was Denver's inability to switch fuel tanks during flight. Upon receiving news of Denver's death, Colorado governor Roy Romer ordered all state flags to be lowered to half staff in his honor. Funeral services were held at Faith Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Colorado, on October 17th.
There is not much that Denver did not achieve. One of the world's best known and best-loved performers, he was a master communicator who could reach audiences regardless of geography, economics, politics and language. He was a true international figure dedicated to world peace and the elimination of hunger. He was one of the five founders of The Hunger Project, and as part of both that commitment and to UNICEF as well, he was a member of the fact-finding delegation which toured African countries devastated by drought and starvation. Denver was awarded the Presidential World Without Hunger Award. He was a supporter of the National Wildlife Federation, Save the Children, the Cousteau Society, Friends Of The Earth and the Human/Dolphin Foundation, to name just a few.
Denver's numerous tributes and awards included acknowledgments as the number one recording artist in the U.S., Favorite Music Performer, People's Choice Awards, AGVA Singing Star of the Year, Yamaha Music Award and recognition from many governments for his concert about global hunger problems. Denver's popularity since the early 1970s may be measured in record sales that few other artists have achieved, including 14 Gold albums and 8 Platinum albums in the U.S. alone. He had many Gold and Platinum sales overseas as well, in countries including Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom. John Denver is one of the top five recording artists in the sales history of the music industry. Denver was once quoted as saying, "Music does bring people together; it allows us to experience the same emotions. People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves we are the same."
In 2000, CBS presented the made-for-TV movie called Take Me Home: The John Denver Story, starring Chad Lowe. After it was shown, Denver's brother, Ron Deutschendorf, voiced the feelings of many when he wrote a letter to The Los Angeles Times criticizing the inaccuracies of the film, which included chronological errors and exaggerated relationship difficulties .
On September 24th, 2007, the California Friends of John Denver and The Windstar Foundation unveiled a bronze plaque near Pacific Grove, close to where John's plane went down. Over 100 friends and family attended the dedication of the plaque, which features a likeness of John's face and lines from his song "Windsong": So welcome the wind and the wisdom she offers. Follow her summons when she calls again. On November 6th, of that year, his family released a two-CD set of previously unreleased material from his eleven 1985 concert performances in the Soviet Union called "Live in the USSR". The recordings, re-discovered in 2002, were restored, re-mixed and re-mastered for this CD.
On October 13th, 2009, Eagle Rock Entertainment issued a DVD box set of previously unreleased concerts recorded throughout Denver's career. "Around The World Live" is a 5-disc DVD set featuring three complete 'live' performances with a full band from Australia in 1977, Japan in 1981 and England in 1986. These are accompanied by a solo acoustic performance in Japan in 1984 and John's performances at Farm Aid in 1985, 1987 and 1990. The final disc has two hour-long documentaries made by Denver.
On April 21st, 2011, John Denver became the first inductee into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. A benefit concert was held at Broomfield's 1ST BANK Center and hosted by Olivia Newton-John. Other performers on the bill included The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lee Ann Womack and John Oates. Both of John's former wives were in attendance and the award was presented to his three children, Anna Kate, Zak and Jesse. On March 7, 2014, the West Virginia Legislature approved a resolution to make "Take Me Home, Country Roads" the official state song of West Virginia. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed the resolution into law on March 8. Denver thus shares the distinction with Stephen Foster as the composer of two state songs. On October 24, 2014, Denver was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 7065 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California, which was accepted by his children Zachary and Jesse.