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John Denver’s Love of Flying Was His Fatal Flaw

John Denver’s unexpected death in 1997 shocked the musical world that for decades had relished in his uplifting musical and gentle spirit.

Denver took folk music to a new level with his poetic lyrics, pure tenor vocals, and mastery of the acoustic guitar. His signature, borderline-spiritual sound invited audiences to look at the world in all of it’s natural splendor and glory just as he had.

If Elvis Presley defined the 1950s and the Beatles the 60s, then John Denver arguably was the voice of the 1970s – or at least that’s how his manager once put it.

During that decade, Denver was one of the most popular acoustic artists around. And by the end of the 70s, he was one of the overall best-selling artists of all time. Even today, he still considered to be one of the most beloved entertainers of his era.

Denver recorded and put out about 300 songs. Impressively 200 of those, he composed himself. He released 33 albums and singles that ended up being certified Gold and Platinum in the United States by RIAA, and it’s estimated that his total record sales totaled more than 33 million.

But the musician’s horrific death 25 years ago would bring about a startling and heartbreaking end to his career. Denver was killed when an experimental aircraft he was illegally piloting crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He had always had a love for flight, but he never expected that his fascination for the open skies would be the death of him.

Denver was just 53 years old when he passed away. Likely, he would have continued to make music and tour for quite some time if his light hadn’t been prematurely snuffed out. But alas, he’s no longer with us and we’ll never know what ‘might have been’ if he hadn’t hopped aboard that ill-fated flight. Fortunately, his legacy continues to live on through his music and humanitarian contributions.

John was always known as a kindhearted and gentle man. If you had to come up with a list of his faults, it would quite frankly be difficult. Sadly, the only one that immediately comes to mind is also the one that ultimately proved to be his undoing. Join Facts Verse as we discuss how John Denver’s love of flying was his fatal flaw.

John Denver”s Rise To Fame

John Denver was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. on New Year’s Eve in 1943, in the so-called extraterrestrial capital of the world, Roswell, New Mexico. Interestingly, that would be just seven years prior to the notorious Roswell incident that put the sleepy little desert town on the map.

As a teen, Denver was gifted a 1910 Gibson acoustic guitar from his grandmother. He immediately took a liking to the instrument and started writing his own music.

John’s dad was an officer in the US Air Force. Even as a child, he was fascinated and fixated on all-things aviation-related. Much like his love for music, this would also become a crucial part of his identity, as his love for flight would follow him throughout his life. Sadly, as we’ve already touched on, it would eventually contribute to his demise.

After graduating from high school, Denver enrolled at Texas Tech University. He attended the school from 1961 to 1964, but his musical aspirations led him to drop out of school and make his way to New York City in 1965.

Once in the Big Apple, Denver beat out 250 other auditioners for a spot in the Chad Mitchell Trio before landing his first big break in 1967.

Denver wrote the song ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ for the folk outfit Peter, Paul, and Mary. The tune was an immediate hit and is now considered to be a classic. After proving his worth by penning that track, Denver’s appeal to music industry insiders was given a massive boost.

Studios and execs were drawn to his squeaky-clean, wholesome image, but they thought that his birth name wasn’t conducive to a life as a star. After dropping his surname, Deutschendorf, and adopting ‘Denver’, John was seen as being much more marketable.

John chose the name because he was always drawn to the Rocky Mountains. Not only was it the place where his family had settled, but he also felt inspired by the natural environment. It would be in the mountainous terrain of Colorado that Denver would be inspired to write some of the biggest hits of his career.

The name change clearly worked, because from the late 1960s to the mid-70s, Denver released a series of six albums – four of which were considered to be commercial successes. Some of his biggest hits from this period included ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’, ‘Annie’s Song’, and ‘Rocky Mountain High’. The latter even become the official state song of the state of Colorado.

Seemingly overnight, Denver’s broad appeal and popularity grew to the point where he was playing sold-out shows in auditoriums and stadiums across the nation.

Real quick – if you’re enjoying this video so far, take a moment to show us a little support by giving this video a like and subscribing to the Facts Verse channel. And don’t go anywhere just yet. Stay tuned to learn how John Denver was involved in not just one – but two plane crashes in the last decade of his life.

Denver Was Devoted To Environmental Causes

John didn’t just want to be a musical star. Fame, money, and glory weren’t enough to make him feel satisfied with what he was doing with his life. Instead of simply enjoying a life of lavish luxuries, he used his music and fame to take a stand for issues that deeply mattered to him.

As an activist, Denver was a champion for environmental and humanitarian causes. Groups that he raised awareness for included the Cousteau Society, the National Space Institute, Save the Children Foundation, and Friends of the Earth.

But he wasn’t content with just supporting other organizations and their aims. In 1976, he used his name recognition and finances to co-found the Windstar Foundation – a wildlife preservation and conservation non-profit. The following year, he co-created the World Hunger Project.

To honor him for his humanitarian causes, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter awarded Denver with prestigious awards, including the Presidential ‘World Without Hunger’ Award.

Denver Was Also In A Non-Fatal Plane Accident

In April 1989, John Denver was piloting a vintage 1931 biplane when he went in for a landing at the Holbrook Municipal Airport in Arizona. Earlier that day, he had taken off in Carefree, Arizona, and was en route to Santa Fe, New Mexico, but he needed to land halfway through that flight to refuel.

While taxiing down the runway at Holbrook, Denver got into an accident when a gust of wind caught the plane and spun it around. While the crash wasn’t catastrophic, the plane still sustained extensive damage. Luckily, Denver walked away from that accident completely unharmed.

Very few people are fortunate enough to survive a plane crash. Sadly, the singer’s luck would run out about eight years later.

John Denver’s Death

There were very few places that John loved to be more than up in the air, behind the yoke of a plane, soaring through the open skies solo. The experience of flight provided him with a sense of unparalleled freedom.

Tragically, it would be his love for flying that would be his downfall.

On October 12, 1997, John took off from Monterrey Penninsula Airport, a small regional airport serving the Monterrey, California, region. Denver had already performed three touch-and-go landings before flying out over the Pacific, but he really shouldn’t have been up in the air in the first place.

At the time, Denver was flying illegally, seeing as how he didn’t have a pilot’s license at the time.

It’s also worth noting that at the time of his death, the aircraft that he was flying in was previously to blame for 61 accidents – 19 of which proved to be fatal.

At 5:28 PM, a dozen or so bystanders witnessed John’s experimental Adrian Davis Long EZ plane, which he owned, nosedive into the Pacific.

John was killed instantaneously, but the cause of his fatal crash left much for investigators to dissect.

The National Transportation Safety Board eventually determined that a less than ideal placement of a fuel selector valve likely shifted John’ s attention away from flying. It’s theorized that Denver inadvertently steered the craft into a nosedive when he was fumbling around trying to reach the fuel selector valve’s handle.

The valve’s purpose was to switch the engine’s fuel intake from one tank to another so that the aircraft didn’t need to land to refuel.

It was later determined that even before take-off, Denver knew that the handle was problematic. The plane’s designer had assured John that he would fix the fuel valve selector’s design and placement before he finished that leg of his tour. Sadly, John never got a chance to see that plan come to fruition.

Investigators also came to the conclusion that Denver hadn’t refueled the plane before embarking. If he had refueled the aircraft’s primary tank, he wouldn’t have needed to hit the valve switch mid-flight. While Denver didn’t file a flight plan as he should have, he told a mechanic that he wouldn’t need to refuel since he would only be up in the air for about an hour.

While most people agree that John Denver’s death was a tragic accident, there are those that believe that, regardless of the poor valve design, it would have been impossible for him to have steered himself into a nosedive without doing so on purpose.

But those who knew Denver personally don’t believe that he would ever have taken his own life. Regardless of the cause of the crash, however, it’s sobering to consider how it took investigators all evening following Denver’s crash to recover all of his major body parts.

The aftermath of the accident was nothing short of horrific – and nobody deserves to go out like that.

John Denver’s legacy will continue to live on for many years to come. Following his passing, a bronze statue honoring him was erected at Red Rocks Amphitheater just outside of Denver, Colorado.

In 2014, Denver was given a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

And every October, Aspen, Colorado, spends a week paying tribute to Denver with a six-day event called John Denver Celebration. Fans of the late singer-songwriter can pay tribute to him by watching tribute bands play his music and taking tours of the area that John once called home.

Anyway, we’re just about out of time, but we’d love to hear from you.

Did you know that John Denver was involved in a non-fatal plane crash in 1989 that he walked away from unscathed, and that he’s sold more than 33 million records worldwide?

Share your thoughts on this great American songster in the comments section down below.

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As always, thanks for watching! We’ll see you soon with more content covering some of your favorite stars, films, and television shows from yesteryear.

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