26 years ago today, on October 12, 1997, John Denver was tragically killed in a plane crash. The singer-songwriter was 53 years old when a plane he was piloting crashed into the Monterey Bay, after he was unsuccessfully able to switch gas tanks while in the air.
Denver’s musical legacy far surpassed one genre. In addition to releasing four albums as part of the Mitchell Trio (with Mike Kobluk and Joe Frazier), Denver also had a massively successful career as a solo artist, with charting singles on both country and adult contemporary charts.
Denver’s first hit single, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” became one of the most popular anthems in music over the last five decades. The song, from Denver’s Poems, Prayers and Promises album, remains one of the biggest hits of his career.
Denver released more than 20 albums before he passed away, with over 25 charting singles. Some of Denver’s other hits include “Rocky Mountain High,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Annie’s Song,” “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” “Sweet Surrender” and more. He was named the CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1975.
Denver’s talents went beyond his musical capabilities. The New Mexico native was also an established actor, appearing in movies like Walking Thunder, Oh, God! and The Christmas Gift, among others.
Although Denver’s autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol were in his system at the time of the plane crash, he had previously been denied an aviation medical certificate — a requirement to fly — due to violating a previous order by the Federal Aviation Administration to abstain from drinking. The warning came following his arrest in 1995 for drunk driving.
According to the Los Angeles Times, low fuel, a hard-to-reach handle to switch gas tanks, and modifications to Denver’s airplane, which he had received only two weeks earlier, likely contributed to his crash.
Denver was survived by three children, Jessie Belle, Anna Kate and Zachery, when he passed away. After his death, then-President Clinton honored Denver by saying he ”opened many doors to understanding among nations”
‘My music and all my work stem from the conviction that people everywhere are intrinsically the same,” Denver once said. ”When I write a song, I want to take the personal experience that inspired it and express it in as universal way as possible. I’m a global citizen.”