Little more than a week ago, it seemed only fitting to dedicate this page to the late singer and composer, John Denver. Whether or not we agreed with his radical politics, his reckless and irresponsible behavior, or lack of popularity in recent decades, John has touched all of us in one way or another through exhaustive airplay of approximately half-a-dozen top-selling singles. As I sat down this evening to organize my thoughts on the matter, I began to realize that I had none, for over the past ten days, everything that could be said about this singer already has been. (no pun intended)
With only hours until my deadline and panic in my voice, I called upon my announcer, Dayle Embree, to see if he could somehow spin me in a new direction. "You know, Pastor Dick," he calmly stated, "Most everybody has been talking about John Denver the singer. What about John Denver the actor? He has done more work on film and television than most people care to remember." "Far Out!" I kidded, utilizing JD's ever-popular catch phrase. I thanked Dayle and headed to my computer for a night of intense research, and lo-and-behold, John Denver did have a more impressive filmography than I had anticipated. So without further elucidation, I will give you a brief history of this gifted actor's work.
Would you believe that a young John Denver first appeared on the big screen in 1959? The film was called The Private's Affair, and starred Sal Mineo, Gary Crosby, and Barbara Eden. Pretty remarkable considering this came 12 years before his first hit song! Of course we all know that this was the same year John landed his first major TV role as Maynard G. Krebbs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a popular situation comedy starring Dwayne Hickman, which enjoyed a four year run. Shortly after, John got himself a leading role in For Those Who Think Young, a 1964 feature starring James Darren, Ellen Burstyn and an olive-skinned brunette named Nancy Sinatra. This would also be the year of John Denver's greatest acting achievement.
In his first starring role, John played a dimwitted but lovable seaman in the enormously successful television series Gilligan's Island. Playing opposite legendary actor Alan Hale Jr., Denver mesmerized his audience with his genius for slapstick throughout its three-year run. In an episode titled "The Producer," John made his singing debut as the castaways staged a musical version of Hamlet. His stirring rendition of "To Be Or Not To Be," set to music from the opera Carmen, inspired the Chad Mitchell Trio (or duo, as it was) to invite him to join the group!
John's movie career blossomed as well, starring in 1968's Have You Heard The One About The Traveling Saleslady? with leading lady Phyllis Diller. His supporting role that year in The Sweet Ride with Jacqueline Bisset and Tony Franciosa is worth mentioning as well. John finished out the sixties with his less heralded series The Good Guys, which reunited him with Alan Hale Jr. midway through its two year run.
The 70's are generally remembered as John's best years, as his musical career began to overshadow his fine acting talent. Even with his busy touring schedule, John always seemed to have time for his acting , most notably children's programming with The Muppets, and two television series, Dusty's Trail and Far Out Space Nuts, a show John named himself to promote his trademark cry of jubilance.
In the late seventies, John was teamed up with a veteran Hollywood actor in what was perhaps his most challenging role. So popular was this motion picture that not one, but two sequels followed. Yes, John's reunion with Alan Hale Jr. made Rescue From Gilligan's Island a solid ratings winner, though Castaways and Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island are not as well remembered.
On the tragic side, John's alcohol and drug abuse were taking their toll. The hits stopped coming, and it is clear to see that his performance in the later Gilligan films is not up to par and his hat fit funny. Sadly, John's bio stops cold in 1988 and only shows bit parts in a few made-for-TV movies, and voice-over work in the cartoon, Gilligan's Planet. In a more recent voice clip, he doesn't sound the same. In 1995 John Denver appeared on America On Line CENTER STAGE. His depression and contempt for his fans is quite evident. It is no surprise that he did not survive his third plane crash.
Many good Christian people have strongly urged me to condemn John Denver for his drunkenness, drug abuse, violent behavior, adultery, and association with bizarre religious cults. I will not be doing so, as his life is in the hands of the Lord right now. For all we know, John said the sinner's prayer on the way down and is in Heaven rather than facing an angry God at the judgment throne... If Mr. Denver did not think to make his decision during those last fleeting moments, I regret that he will have nothing to say other than, "Sorry Skipper!"