“Mobituaries”: John Denver – Death of the Sunshine Boy


The lyrics for “Annie’s Song” – the 1974 ballad by singer-songwriter John Denver – are engraved on a boulder at the John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen, Colorado:

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again

“That’s beautiful,” said Annie Denver, “It’s about love, and it’s about Nature, and how that stirs those profound feelings up.”

Annie Denver with correspondent Mo Rocca at the John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen, Colo. 

CBS News

While their marriage ended in divorce, Annie Denver has continued to honor John’s legacy, helping to design the park which is equal parts nature preserve and career retrospective. But it’s a place he never got to see. 

Twenty-five years ago this week, John Denver died when the plane he was flying plunged into the waters off the California coast. He was 53 years old.

John Denver Performs On Tv Show
Singer John Denver performs on the BBC television show “The John Denver Show” in April 1973. 

Tony Russell/Redferns via Getty Images

“He went out fast, kind of went out like a shooting star,” said Annie. “Sometimes I wonder, I hope that he wasn’t scared that it all happened pretty quickly for him.”

Global superstardom wasn’t inevitable for the entertainer, humanitarian and environmentalist.

John Denver – Live in Japan 81 – Take Me Home, Country Roads by
John Denver on

John Denver’s own road began in Roswell, New Mexico where he was born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. In the 1960s he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his music career, before joining the Chad Mitchell Trio, and meeting Annie.

Correspondent Mo Rocca asked, “You don’t get to be as big a star as John was by accident. I mean, he was ambitious, yeah?”

“Very,” Annie replied. “John had this gift, really. So, I don’t think I looked at it as ‘ambition’ until things started happening.”

After John went solo, he and Annie moved to Aspen, where the Rockies inspired some of his most memorable music.

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High (from The Wildlife Concert) by
JohnDenverVEVO on

Last month the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and John’s former bandmates commemorated 50 years of “Rocky Mountain High” – Denver’s 1972 tribute to the first place he called home. It was after that album that Denver shot into the stratosphere, sharing stages with Olivia Newton-John, Frank Sinatra, and The Muppets.

As Denver’s star rose, he needed someone to help keep him centered. He sought the counsel of Tom Crum, a meditation and martial arts instructor in Aspen who would become a loyal friend.

“He was on a rocket ship, was the way he sort of described it,” said Crum. “And that rocket ship, you know, that’s a scary thing.”

“A rocket ship can crash,” said Rocca.

“It can go very high, and come down very fast.”

Crum described the bond they shared as “very powerful. I started working with him privately in some of the principles of Aikido. And it just was great for his spirit, for his soul. It was grounding for him.”

Crum accompanied Denver across the country and around the world. “When he went to these foreign countries, he always tried to sing something in the language. And he would usually butcher it because, come on,” he laughed.

But the view through Denver’s signature granny glasses wasn’t always rosy. “There’s an up-and-down in him,” Crum said. “A lot of artists are that way. And I think that part of his creativity came in those down moments.”

Rocca asked, “What was the hardest conversation you had with him?”

“In the times when he was so dark and deep, he was really sort of lost,” Crum replied.

John Denver entertained millions, but there was also a melancholy about him, and his music – music that made him one of the most beloved stars of his era, as you’ll hear in Rocca’s podcast “Mobituaries.”

Listen to “Mobituaries: John Denver – Death of the Sunshine Boy” (Season 3, Episode 1) by clicking on the player below: 

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Story produced by Michelle Kessel. Editor: Chad Cardin.

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