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John Denver lauded as 'folk poet of our time'

people mourning

Memorial service held Friday for late singer

October 17, 1997
Web posted at: 6:58 p.m. EDT (2258 GMT)

AURORA, Colorado (CNN) -- Singer John Denver was lauded as the "folk poet of our time" Friday at a memorial service filled with his music and reminiscences about his life as an entertainer, environmentalist and humanitarian.

About 2,000 people crowded into the Faith Presbyterian Church in the Denver suburb of Aurora to say goodbye to Denver. Several hundred people who could not get inside gathered outdoors, under the brilliant Colorado sky so often celebrated in his songs.

vxtreme Denver sings of own death

"His music sprang from his feelings of love and the world we live in," said family friend Hal Thau, Denver's longtime manager. "Most importantly, his songs resonated with the people."

Denver, 53, was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed into California's Monterey Bay on Sunday. Two of his longtime friends from the San Francisco area, Diane and Jerry Jampolski, brought his ashes back to Colorado.

Another memorial service was scheduled for Saturday in Aspen, high in the Colorado Rockies. Denver had made his home there for the past three decades, fostering a romantic attachment between his fans and the rugged mountain lifestyle with songs such as "Rocky Mountain High."

Hours before Friday's service began, mourners began lining up outside the church, where Denver's mother worships, to get a seat. Denver's songs were played over loudspeakers, and many sang along, fighting back tears.

The church

"John has been a big, big part of my family," said Kathy Malowney, who came from San Diego with her daughter for the funeral. "My daughter has grown up with him since she was 6 months old, and he has been on all our road trips with us."

At the front of the church, a large portrait of the singer was unveiled just before the service began. Many in the audience wept when the first song, "On the Wings of a Dream," was played, a tune whose first line is, "Yesterday, I had a dream about dying."

At one time Denver was at the top of the charts -- he was named Country Music Entertainer of the Year in 1975 -- but in later years his music and downhome style seemed out of date.

Ron Deutschendorf, Denver's brother, played a message John had left on his answering machine a week ago: "This is God calling. Just want to -- wanted to -- see how you were doing," Denver was heard to say, unable to restrain his laughter.


In recent times his brother "was very excited, very happy. He'd had a couple of rough years but things were starting to come around," Deutschendorf said.

Two drunken-driving arrests and his second divorce had been a sort of epiphany, friends have said.

Among those on hand for Friday's service were Denver's mother Erma, two ex-wives, Annie Martell and Cassandra Delaney, and his three children, Zachary, Anna Kate and Jesse Belle.

Denver -- born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. -- took his stage name from the city of Denver. His career took off in the 1970s when he began singing about the beauty of the Rockies, and eight of his albums sold more than 2 million copies each. Among his best-loved songs were "Rocky Mountain High" and "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

"John Denver's Greatest Hits" from 1973 is still one of the biggest-selling albums in the history of RCA Records, with worldwide sales of more than 10 million copies.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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