Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. (December 31, 1943 -- October 12, 1997), known professionally as John Denver, was an American singer, songwriter, actor, activist, and humanitarian. He was one of the most popular acoustic artists of the 1970s and one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. After traveling and living in numerous locations while growing up in his military family, Denver began his music career in folk music groups in the late 1960s. His greatest commercial success was as a solo singer, starting in the 1970s. Throughout his life, Denver recorded and released approximately 300 songs, about 200 of which he composed, with total sales of over 33 million .