On October 12, 1997 – eighteen years ago today – singer/activist John Denver died in a plane crash. He was 53. That day the world lost one of its most vibrant voices and most dedicated environmentalists.
I watched a PBS documentary about his life recently, and it stirred memories, making me think about how much he influenced my own life. His music spoke to me. His activism moved me.
- I owned every record he made as a solo artist and sang along – loudly – every time I heard him on the radio.
- I learned to play the guitar and performed “Sunshine on My Shoulders” for a high school talent competition. I didn’t win, but I got the best prize: My big brother coming backstage and telling me I was great. (the first time I remember him ever giving me a compliment)
- I saw John perform live four times.
- I watched him captivate every single person in the audience with his authenticity, energy and pure voice.
- I slept in a tipi for a week on his Windstar Foundation property in Old Snowmass, Colorado while attending a workshop where I first learned Aikido and ate the best vegetarian food I’d ever had. I later became a vegetarian and earned a black belt in Aikido. (The Windstar Foundation dissolved in 2012, but the land is a conservation easement)
- I watched a happy, playful John fly his bi-plane over Windstar, dipping its wings in greeting.
- I played his music when I was happy, sad, angry, excited, motivated. There was always a lyric to fit the moment.
- I traveled to the Rocky Mountains for my first trip alone at age 19.
- I played his songs at my wedding renewal ceremonies.
John inspired me to make music, to travel more, to love deeply, to dream big, and to express myself in new ways. He showed the world that one person can make a difference. Rest in peace, John Denver.
On this anniversary of his death, here are two of my favorite JD songs. Enjoy.