How Did John Denver Die: Freak Accident or Suicide?

how did john denver die
John Denver in Wash D.C. Lincoln Memorial 1995. Photo taken by John Matthew Smith on Wikimedia Commons.

John Denver was one of the most recognizable performers of the 1970s. Songs like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” cemented his place among 70s pop royalty. 

But how did John Denver Die? In this article, we’ll explore some of the major events surrounding his death, as well as his career ups and downs, broken family, and alcohol addiction.

Where was John Denver born?

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

Early Life

At age 11, his grandmother gifted him a Gibson acoustic guitar, which inspired him to start his music career. 

Denver quit college at 25 and moved to New York, where he gained a position in the Chad Mitchell Trio. He eventually left the group and initiated his solo career with his first album, Rhymes & Reason, in 1969.

john denver young
Photo of John Denver from 1974. Photo from RCA Records on Wikimedia Commons.

John Denver’s Music Career

John Denver first saw success with his third album, 1971’s Poems, Prayers & Promises. It included his signature song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads

His star continued to rise throughout the 1970s. 1973 Denver album Rocky Mountain High reached the top 10, as did its title track. He had four #1 singles in 1974 and 1975, including “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and “Sunshine on my Shoulders.” 

Denver ended up with over 30 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1970s before his popularity began to wane.

Personal Issues

The 1980s and 1990s weren’t great for John Denver. He was drinking too much, his music career stagnated, and he dealt with two failed marriages.

Denver’s alcoholism got progressively worse. He plead guilty to drunk driving in 1993. While still on probation for that in 1994, he was arrested again for driving under the influence. 

John Denver and Flying

His failure to refrain from alcohol caused another issue in Denver’s life, as he was banned from his favorite passion, flying. 

John Denver was a passionate private pilot with more than 7,200 hours of flying single and multi-engine aircraft. He was banned from flying in 1996 by the FAA, which was likely a contributing factor to Denver’s untimely death.

How Did John Denver Die?

Denver decided to test fly an experimental Long-EZ kit plane, N555JD, at 5:28 pm Pacific Time on October 12, 1997. It turned out to be his last ride. 

The singer performed three touch-and-go landings and then headed west. Sadly, he failed to manage his flight, and the plane fiercely crashed into Monterey Bay on the California coast. 

Related: The Tragic Story of John Lennon’s Demise

How Old Was John Denver When He Died in a Plane Crash?

Denver was 53 when his untimely death from a tragic airplane crash shocked the entire entertainment industry.


What Was The Cause Of John Denver’s Death?

The Monterey County Medical Examiner’s official ruling states that John Denver’s cause of death was “multiple blunt force trauma” due to the plane crash.

Why Did John Denver’s Plane Crash?

Many celebrities have died in plane crashes, but John Denver’s case was different, as he was riding on an experimental amateur aircraft.

Moreover, the pilot of this doomed flight was Denver himself, who was banned from flying at that time. 

Denver did not refill the tank before taking off, so he ran out of fuel during the flight. 

When he ran out of fuel, he tried to switch the fuel selector valve that shifts the fuel intake to the engine from one tank to another. However, he accidentally pressed the right rudder instead of the valve, making him lose control and die in the crash. 

What Were the Last Words of John Denver When He Died?

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, John Denver did not give any emergency indication to the Monterey airport control tower. He was adjusting the transponder when he radioed the tower. 

Safety board investigator George Petterson revealed that John Denver’s last words were, “do you have it now?”

Related: What We Know About the Death of Marvin Gaye

Did John Denver Kill Himself?

There is a more controversial idea about how John Denver died.

Further investigation revealed that a deadly design flaw was responsible for the crash. NTSB reported that the poor placement of a valve diverted the singer’s attention. 

Some pilots claim that the poor placement of the valve isn’t enough for a plane to nosedive. He also did not make any distress calls. Autopsy reports did not show any sign of drinking during the day of the plane crash. 

Did John Denver commit suicide? We’ll never know. He was dealing with divorces, depression, and a serious drinking habit, and there are questions about the crash, but those who knew him said he would never take his own life. 

Where is John Denver Buried?

All the major body parts of John Denver were gathered, cremated, and scattered in his favorite Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

where is john denver buried
The John Denver Sanctuary in Rio Grande Park, Aspen, Colorado. Photo taken in 2018 by whoisjohngault on Wikimedia Commons.

Did John Denver Die Alone?

John Denver was alone in the plane crash that took his life.

Was John Denver Married When He Died?

John Denver was not married at the time of his death. He married twice, but none of these stayed till his death. Denver married Anne Martell in 1967, but the couple separated in 1983. He later married an Australian actress Cassandra Delaney but officially divorced in 1993.

Related: How Did Bob Marley Die? The Ultimate Guide

Did John Denver Have Any Biological Children?

Denver had two adopted children, Anne Kate and Zachary John, from his first marriage and only one biological child, Jesse Belle, from his second marriage.

Did John Denver Have Dementia?

Many companies speculate that the singer had dementia. However, there is no evidence that supports that John Denver had any psychological disease throughout his career.


Written by Bo Weber

Supporting artists since 2014


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