The singer/songwriter, known for his sunny hits from the ‘70s such as “Rocky Mountain High” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” was killed instantly in 1997 when his experimental plane crashed into Monterey Bay. He was 53.
His pal, the founder of the nonprofit EcoFlight, told Closer Weekly’s latest issue that the star was a complex figure who cared deeply for the environment.
“It’s not an easy thing to be sensitive, thoughtful, mindful and caring of so many things,” Gordon told the outlet.
In his lifetime, Denver quickly became a beloved musical figure. Fourteen of his albums went gold and eight were ranked as platinum, with more than a million units sold. The LP “John Denver’s Greatest Hits” is still one of the largest selling albums in the history of RCA Records, with worldwide sales of more than 10 million copies. He was also named Country Music Entertainer of the year in 1975.
But according to Gordon, it was his family – not success – that always came first for the star.
“He would talk about the kids all the time,” Gordon told the outlet. “He would always miss the kids.”
Denver is survived by three children: Jessie Belle, Anna Kate and Zachary.
“He liked being at home,” said Gordon. “And he was the happiest in nature – whether it was taking a walk, sitting by a waterfall or diving off one. He could five off a 50-foot cliff and land it flawlessly.”
According to Gordon, Denver devoted more of his time to environmental activism in his later years – and many people wondered if the star would pursue politics.
“A lot of people wanted him to run for office, but he felt like he could do more by influencing people without being a politician,” he said.
In his lifetime, Denver made that sentiment known to the public.
“Music does bring people together,” Denver once said. “`It allows us to experience the same emotions. People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves: We are the same.”
Denver, a licensed pilot, was in a previous plane accident in April 1989. He walked away uninjured after the 1931 biplane he was piloting spun around while taxiing at an airport in northern Arizona.
“We are all very broken up over this,” said family friend Jerry McClain at the time of Denver’s death. “The person John was in public was the person he was personally.”
And while the revered artist met a tragic end, his family is determined to keep his legacy alive.
According to the outlet, Denver’s children are working with Brian Schwartz. The estate manager hopes to put together a film about Denver’s life, as well as a documentary about his activism and a Broadway musical based on his songbook.
“John left behind a legacy, not only of music but of his environmental and social activism,” Schwartz told the outlet. “The biggest thing we are doing is making sure that his message continues to reach new audiences.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.