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John Denver killed in plane crash
October 13, 1997
Web posted at: 1:38 p.m. EDT (1738 GMT)
SALINAS, California (CNN) -- Singer and songwriter John Denver, whose '70 hits such as "Rocky Mountain High" and "Take Me Home, Country Roads" gained him worldwide fame, was killed Sunday when his small aircraft plunged into Monterey Bay, officials said Monday. He was 53.
His remains were positively identified by the Monterey County Coroner's Office through fingerprints obtained from the state of Colorado, Monterey County Sheriff Norman Hicks said. The National Transportation Safety Board was pursuing details on the cause of the crash itself, while the sheriff's coroners will be investigating the circumstances surrounding the cause of death, he said.
"We share a sense of shock and loss to our community, our nation and the world, and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the many friends, the family, and the many admirers of John Denver," Hicks said at a Monday news conference.
Denver was piloting the two-seat light plane along the California coast when the engine failed shortly after 5 p.m., plunging him into ocean waters just past Monterey Bay.
He was believed to be the sole person on board the single-engine fiberglass plane, which he owned. It was considered an experimental aircraft, said Pacific Grove police Lt. Carl Miller.
It took officials several hours to positively identify Denver's remains.
Denver owned a home on Monterey Peninsula, a coastal area south of San Francisco, and visited the area often, Hicks said.
Lt. Dave Allard, spokesman for the Monterey County sheriff's department, said an autopsy would be conducted Monday. Toxicology tests, standard for fatal crashes, also will be conducted, he said.
Teri Martell, whose sister Annie was the singer's first wife, had told CNN early Monday that Denver "was a very experienced pilot." Martell said Annie was told he was practicing taking off and landing when the accident occurred.
Denver was in a previous plane accident in April 1989. He walked away uninjured after the 1931 biplane he was piloting spun around while taxiing at an airport in northern Arizona.
In 1995, a flight instructor sued Denver for a runway run-in at Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming. The instructor alleged the singer was piloting his Christen Eagle in 1994 when the airplane taxied into the flight instructor's Cessna.
Denver had 14 gold and eight platinum albums in the United States, and was popular around the world. According to Sony Records, Denver's current label, he is one of the five top-selling artists in the history of the music industry.
In addition to music and television awards, Denver also received recognition from several environmental groups for his advocacy of his beloved Rocky Mountains. Then-Colorado Gov. John Vanderhoof named Denver the state's Poet Laureate in 1974. Denver lived in Aspen since the early 1970s.
Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Denver traveled throughout his childhood. After studying architecture at Texas Tech, he went west in 1965 to pursue a career in folk music.
John Denver's Most Popular singles
His first taste of musical success was in 1969, when the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary recorded Denver's "Leavin' on a Jet Plane," which went on to become the Number 1 song in the country. Denver's voice first hit the charts in 1971, when "Take me Home, Country Roads" went to Number 2.
"Country Roads" was Denver's first million-seller. A string of hits followed in the 1970s, including "Rocky Mountain High," "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and "Annie's Song," an ode to his wife. They separated in 1983 and later divorced.
In 1977, Denver made his big-screen acting debut in "Oh, God," opposite George Burns. He made occasional acting appearances over the years, but was better known for his television specials. Denver appeared in several Christmas shows, including two with Jim Henson's Muppets.
In 1984 and '85, Denver was one of the first Western artists to tour the Soviet Union following a resumption of cultural exchanges with the United States. He was also one of the first Western artists to go on a multi-city tour of China, in 1992.
Standup comics and newspaper cartoonists leapt on a 1988 "Aviation Week & Space Technology" report that Denver asked Soviet space officials to launch him to the Mir space station. The cash-strapped Soviets were reportedly considering the idea, with a price of $10 million.
Denver's legal troubles have made headlines in recent years. Charged with driving under the influence in 1993, Denver pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of driving while impaired.
He was again charged with DUI when his Porsche ran off the road in his Aspen, Colorado, neighborhood in 1994. The trial for that charge ended with a hung jury in July 1997. Denver's defense argued that the singer's thyroid condition made alcohol tests unreliable.
In August 1997, "The Best of John Denver Live" reached Number 47 on the country album charts. It was Denver's first chart appearance since 1988.