John Denver (December 31, 1943 - October 12, 1997), born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. in Roswell, NM, adopting the stage surname "Denver" in tribute to the Rocky Mountain area he so cherished was one of America's most popular performers in the '70s. As a teen, his grandmother presented him with a 1910 Gibson acoustic guitar, and while attending Texas Tech University he began performing local clubs. He dropped out of college in 1964 to relocate to Los Angeles; there he joined "The Chad Mitchell Trio", a major draw on the hootenanny circuit of the early '60s but in the twilight of their career at the time of Denver's arrival. Over time, however, Denver helped resuscitate the group on the strength of his songwriting skills; signed to Mercury, the Trio recorded a number of tracks, which the label repackaged in 1974 as "Beginnings With the Chad Mitchell Trio". Upon the departure of the last remaining founding member, "The Chad Mitchell Trio" became known as "Denver, Boise and Johnson"; the new group proved short-lived, however, when Denver exited in 1969 to pursue a solo career. At the peak of his success, Denver was everywhere. In 1977, he even moved into film, co-starring with George Burns in the comedy hit "Oh, God!". During this time, however, he dramatically curtailed his recording output, and after 1977's I Want to Live, issued no new material until 1980's Autograph. As the decade progressed, Denver's popularity waned as he turned his focus more toward humanitarian work, focusing primarily on ecological concerns and space exploration. While maintaining a solid cult following, by the 1990s Denver had largely fallen off the radar, and he made more news for a 1993 drunk-driving arrest than he did for records like 1991's "Different Directions". In 1994, he published an autobiography, Take Me Home. Tragedy struck on October 12, 1997, when his experimental aircraft suddenly crashed, killing him instantly. Denver was 53.