John Denver facts: Country singer's wife, children, career and tragic death explained

11 March 2022, 12:58

John Denver
John Denver. Picture: Getty

John Denver was one of the greatest country singer-songwriters of all time.

The American artist was a singer, actor, activist, and humanitarian, who found great success as a solo singer.

Starting with folk groups in the late 1960s, he became one of the most popular acoustic artists of the 1970s, selling millions of records around the world.

John Denver released around 300 songs, writing the majority of them, with famous songs including 'Take Me Home, Country Roads', 'Annie's Song', 'Rocky Mountain High', 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy', and 'Sunshine on My Shoulders'.

He also appeared in several films and TV shows during the 1970s and 1980s, including 1977's Oh, God! alongside George Burns.

He was also known for his support of environmental issues, promoting space exploration, and testifying in front of Congress to protest censorship in music.

Living in Aspen for most of his life, Denver was named poet laureate of his beloved Colorado.

  1. What was John Denver's real name and where was he from?

    John Denver was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr, on December 31, 1943, in Roswell, New Mexico.

    His parents were Captain Henry John 'Dutch' Deutschendorf Sr (1920–1982), a United States Army Air Forces pilot stationed at Roswell Army Air Field, and Erma Louise (née Swope; 1922–2010).

    Later in life, John explained that his stern father did not show love for his children, with John being the eldest.

    As his father was in the military and his family moved around often, it was difficult for John to make friends and fit in with other children, as he was constantly the 'new kid'.

    Aged 11, John Denver received an acoustic guitar from his grandmother. He learned to play so he could perform at local clubs by the time he was in college.

    At first, he changed his name when Randy Sparks, founder of the New Christy Minstrels, suggested that 'Deutschendorf' would not fit well on a marquee.

  2. Was John Denver married and did he have children?

    John Denver and Annie Martell in 1980
    John Denver and Annie Martell in 1980. Picture: Getty

    John Denver's first marriage was to Annie Martell. She was the subject of his classic ballad 'Annie's Song', which he wrote in just 10 minutes while sitting on a Colorado ski lift.

    The couple adopted a boy, Zachary John, and a girl, Anna Kate.

    He said: "I'll tell you the best thing about me. I'm some guy's dad; I'm some little gal's dad. When I die, Zachary John and Anna Kate's father, boy, that's enough for me to be remembered by. That's more than enough".

    John Denver and Cassandra Delaney in 1987
    John Denver and Cassandra Delaney in 1987. Picture: Getty

    Denver and Martell divorced in 1982. He later said that his career demands drove them apart.

    He later married Australian actress Cassandra Delaney in 1988. They couple had a daughter, Jesse Belle.

    However, they separated in 1991 and divorced in 1993.

    John Denver's children Zachary and Jesse attend the ceremony honoring their father, John Denver with a Star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014
    John Denver's children Zachary and Jesse attend the ceremony honoring their father, John Denver with a Star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014. Picture: Getty
  3. When and how did John Denver die?

    John Denver's funeral service
    John Denver's funeral service. Picture: Getty

    John Denver had a longtime love of flying.

    In 1974, he bought a Learjet to fly himself to concerts. He was a collector of vintage biplanes, and owned a Christen Eagle aerobatic plane, two Cessna 210 Centurion airplanes, and in 1997 an amateur-built Rutan Long-EZ.

    John Denver died on October 12, 1997, when his light homebuilt aircraft, a Rutan Long-EZ, crashed into Monterey Bay near Pacific Grove, California.

    John Denver in 1996
    John Denver in 1996. Picture: Getty

    It crashed after making a series of touch-and-go landings at the nearby Monterey Peninsula Airport.

    Denver was the plane's only occupant at the time. The official cause of death was multiple blunt force trauma resulting from the crash.

    At the time, John Denver was a pilot with over 2,700 hours of experience. He was not legally permitted to fly at the time of the crash. In previous years, he had several arrests for drunk driving.

    In 1996, nearly a year before the accident, the FAA discovered that Denver had failed to stay sober, and revoked his medical certification. However, the accident was not influenced by alcohol, as an autopsy found no sign of alcohol or other drugs in Denver's body.

    After the announcement of Denver's death, Colorado Governor Roy Romer ordered all state flags to be lowered to half-staff in his memory.

    On September 23, 2007, nearly 10 years after John Denver's death, his brother Ron attended the dedication of a plaque placed near the crash site in Pacific Grove, California.