1997: John Denver’s death leaves local residents shocked
In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society. John Denver’s death leaves local residents shockedBy Bob WardSinger and longtime Aspenite John Denver died Sunday in a plane crash in California, leaving residents of his adopted hometown and fans around the world shocked.Perhaps more than anyone else, John Denver is synonymous with Aspen to the world at large.An out-of-state resident who fell in love with the mountains and Aspen in particular, Denver’s easygoing songs about love and natural beauty helped popularize the Colorado Rockies. Songs like “Starwood in Aspen” and “Rocky Mountain High” helped put Aspen on the map in the 1970s, and his celebrations of nature strengthened and reinforced the budding environmental movement.Co-founded by Denver in 1976, the Windstar Foundation in Old Snowmass continues to promote peace and environmental sustainability. He also took on world hunger, co-founding the Hunger Project and serving on the U.S. Commission on World and Domestic Hunger.His close friend and former bodyguard Tom Crum said Monday, “I’m sorry that John died, but I am so glad that he lived.”Crum used the occasion to applaud Denver’s numerous social and environmental contributions, but also remembered the singer as a close personal friend.”There was an unabashed little-boy nature to him that was always missed by the big media events he was involved in,” Crum said. “He was the kind of guy who would pick up trash wherever he saw it, which was always an inspiration to me.”Denver, 53, died while flying an experimental plane off the central coast of California. A witness reportedly heard a loud pop and then watched the plane plummet into Monterey Bay. A licensed pilot, Denver was flying the single-engine craft by himself when it crashed around 5:30 p.m. A Coast Guard helicopter searched for fragments of the aircraft today.The singer had been spending more time at a rented home in the coastal town of Carmel recently, often visiting his daughter, Jesse Belle. Retrieved from the bay, Denver’s body was identified using fingerprints sent from Colorado.Born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. to an Air Force family in RosweII, N.M., Denver took his stage name from the capital city of Colorado, where he later moved. As a military child he traveled far and wide, living in Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama, Texas and even Japan. He came to Aspen permanently in the early 1970s.Denver is survived by a son, Zachary, and daughter, AnnaKate, from his first marriage; his second wife, Cassandra Delaney; their daughter, Jesse Belle; his brother, Ron Deutschendorf; and his mother, Emma.Denver’s first wife, Aspenite Annie Denver, chose not to speak to The Aspen Times Monday, but said through a friend that “John really traveled a lot and fell in love with Aspen many years ago. He loved the beauty and the people, and I hope what’s what he’ll be remembered by.”They sound somewhat naive and dated today, but Denver’s light folk-pop songs touched millions of people around the world. He had 14 gold and eight platinum albums in the United States, and the album “John Denver’s Greatest Hits” is still one of the largest-selling albums in the history of RCA Records. (Oct. 14)
The original Harriman Cup sits on a countertop between the kitchen and living room of Dick Durrance’s Snowmass Village condominium. A solid silver totem to his past triumphs as America’s first great ski racer, the huge, bowl-like chalice now serves as a bed for the family cat, Spook.After winning the prestigious cup for the third time, Durrance was awarded the cup itself in 1940. Durrance’s wife, Miggs, shrugs at the way it’s being used now.”The cat just loves sleeping in it,” she laughs.Clearly neither of the Durrances really planned on handing over the Harriman Cup to their kitty. They love skiing and ski racing, and they’re proud to have the historic cup in their home. But 82-year-old Dick Durrance doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he understands that there are some things you just can’t control – domestic cats being one of them.To bump into Dick and Miggs Durrance on the street, you’d never guess they’re a pair of ski-industry icons, a well-known filmmaker and photographer, or for that matter, the king and queen of the 1997 Aspen Wintersköl parade. But the unassuming Durrances don’t appear to be in it for the glory. They just love skiing, love the mountains, and love film and photography. Whatever fame they’ve achieved seems almost to have sought them out.As husband and wife, athletes, adventurers and artists, their lives have mirrored the development of American skiing, and in many ways they exemplify the vaunted “Aspen ideal.”Trained in the Bavarian Alps, the compact, 5-foot-7 Dick Durrance was a four-time U.S. collegiate skiing champion, a 1936 Olympian a renowned sliding stylist and the winner of 17 American skiing titles. He went on to help inaugurate Sun Valley, Alta and Aspen ski resorts and make a veritable library of documentary films. Locally, he is acknowledged as the man who put Aspen on the map by bringing the FlS World Championships to the United Stales for the first time in 1950.The warm, smiling Miggs grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area as an equestrian and pianist, but discovered skiing as a young adult while stuck in a winter storm for six days in Yosemite. She actually acquired her taste for photography from Dick, but earned international acclaim as a photographer in her own right, publishing her work in high-profile journals such as Time, Life and Sports Illustrated.As Aspen celebrates 50 years of lift-served skiing this season. Miggs’ famous photographs of early skiing in town are visible in shops, exhibitions and books everywhere. Many of them feature her high-speed husband racing down a snowy slope in his familiar streamlined tuck. Both Dick and Miggs majored in art. They first met in Sun Valley in 1938, when Miggs spotted Dick in a treetop, shooting pictures of skiers on a training course. They were both candidates for the 1940 Olympic ski team, and Dick was taking time off between his own training runs to climb that tree and pursue his second passion: photography. They would both end up making the Olympic team, but World War II interfered and that competition was never held. In any event, that winter encounter initiated a husband-and-wife team effort that would remain forever entwined with snow, skiing and mountains.”We thought it was so much fun we just got married,” Dick recalled.The 50th anniversary of Aspen skiing was featured in a recent article in Newsweek magazine, but the story devoted much more ink to the town’s Hollywood connections than anything to do with skiing or the “ski pioneers” in the local spotlight this week. To the Durrances, that’s an affront to the town and the people whose hard work lifted it to international prominence.”They focused on the glitz,” Dick grimaced. “It’s just crap.”Spoken like a true ski pioneer. (Jan. 11-12)
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has tested positive for the coronavirus. Polis and his partner, Marlon Reis, both have COVID-19 and are asymptomatic, the governor said in a statement Saturday night.