John Denver (December 31, 1943 – October 12, 1997), born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., was a singer-songwriter. He was a 1961 graduate of Arlington Heights High School, in Fort Worth, TX. While at Arlington, Denver played on the football team and participated in chorus and Allied Youth. A photo from his junior yearbook depicts him performing in a school talent show, singing a song (“One Little Kiss”) that he composed.
Denver, who adopted his professional surname in honor of his favorite state, established himself as a popular acoustic artist in the 1970s. Over the course of his career, he put out 12 gold and four platinum albums as well as a string of hit singles. He composed approximately 200 songs, including Peter, Paul, and Mary’s sole number-one hit, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” In 1974, Denver was named Colorado’s Poet Laureate.
He became active politically in the 1970s, concentrating primarily on supporting environmental causes and fighting world hunger. He co-founded the Windstar Foundation in 1976, to conserve 1,000 acres of land in Colorado and to educate people about the environment. Denver also had an interest in acting. He co-starred in the 1977 film Oh, God! A friend of Jim Henson’s, he also appeared in two Muppets TV specials.
Denver loved flying and died when the plane he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay, in California. He was the sole occupant. Denver is one of two composers to have two of his hits adopted as state songs: “Rocky Mountain High” (Colorado) and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (West Virginia).