Fans mark John Denver’s death
October 12, 2007
ASPEN ” Hundreds of John Denver fans are converging on Aspen Friday to mark the 10th anniversary of the singer’s death.
The gathering will be a joyous time, celebrating Denver’s special talents and ability to connect with people, said Deborah Perry, an organizer of some of the events and co-administrator of a website for a group called The World Family of John Denver.
“It’s a happy time. We’re not mourning his loss anymore,” said Perry, who came to Aspen this week from Elgin, Ill. She has marked the anniversary of Denver’s death in Aspen each year with her husband, Keith. In fact, they renewed their vows three years ago at the event.
During the first few years of the Aspen event, she said, emotions were still “raw.”
Denver died Sunday, Oct. 12, 1997, when the home-built, single-engine fiberglass airplane he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay, Calif., while he was practicing touch-and-go landings. Denver, whose given name was Henry John Deutschendorf, was 53 years old.
Denver’s name always will be linked with Aspen. He fell in love with the town during a performance in 1968, moved here in 1969, and picked land for a home the following year, his brother, Ron Deutschendorf, said Thursday.
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He also was a fixture around town. Locals could rub elbows with him at the old Flying Dog Brew Pub, take in his catchy pop tunes and beautiful spiritual songs at an occasional benefit concert, and get invigorated by his optimism for humankind as a host of the Windstar Foundation’s Choices for the Future Symposium.
Stunned Roaring Fork Valley residents and visitors held a candlelight vigil in Aspen the weekend he died. A memorial service attracted 2,100 mourners in Aurora on the weekend after he died, and a similar-sized crowd gathered at Aspen Meadows for another memorial.
One fan was so moved by Denver’s accomplishments that he asked the Aspen City Council to change the name of Main Street to John Denver Way. That didn’t happen, but Aspen established the John Denver Sanctuary in summer 1998 along the Roaring Fork River near Rio Grande Park to honor the man. The sanctuary is visited by thousands of people year round, especially on and around the anniversary of his death.
Denver was honored by Colorado legislators earlier this year when they passed a resolution making his hit “Rocky Mountain High” a second state song. The senate voted 26-8 to designate it the co-state song while the house voted 50-11 in favor. Some opponents objected that the song allegedly had pot references.
State Sen. Bob Hagedorn said when he suggested the idea that he wanted to honor “a great Colorado citizen.”
“It seemed fitting that on the 10th anniversary of his untimely death, John Denver’s most recognized song should be his adopted state’s co-state song,” Hagedorn, a Denver Democrat, said in an e-mail interview Thursday. “Interestingly, one might say that John Denver was ‘green’ before it was popular to be green. I personally have liked the environment themed songs he recorded later in his career. On the 10th anniversary of his death, the environment is finally on folks’ political agendas, including Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter’s.”
Denver had 14 gold and eight platinum albums. In addition to “Rocky Mountain High,” his songs “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders” were mega-hits.
But Denver’s legacy goes beyond songs that make you smile. He sang about peace and backed the words with concerts in Russia as the Cold War was coming to an end. He sang about personal responsibility to environmental sustainability and established the Windstar Foundation in Old Snowmass.
“John really was an environmentalist before there was a word for that,” said John Deutschendorf, Denver’s brother.
Deutschendorf, the president of the Windstar Foundation, said he believes his brother will ultimately be best remembered for his environmental activism and efforts to promote peace.
“I think his music will lead you there,” he said. His fans and friends “get involved in his music because it is universal. Everybody around the world can relate to it.”
Deborah Perry can testify to that. Denver’s legacy is still enough to attract hundreds of people like her to Aspen each year at this time to celebrate his accomplishments.
“We’ve built a lot of relationships with people from all over the world,” Perry said.