John Denver dies in crash

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Often scorned by the critics, doted on by fans who bought his records by the million, country singer John Denver died when the small aircraft he was flying plummeted into the Pacific. Denver, a licensed pilot, crashed shortly after take-off from Monterey Airport, south of San Francisco, on Sunday night. His single-engine aircraft was described by local police as ''experimental'', and witnesses said it dropped suddenly into the water from about 500 feet.

Denver, 53, became one of the biggest recording artists in the United States with a country boy image and songs that were irresistibly catchy. His allure was difficult to define but it served him well. ''He was never anything but John Denver. He didn't accommodate new trends," said his friend Pierre Cossette.

Born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr, son of an Air Force pilot, he took his name from the capital of Colorado, the state where he lived. His big break came in 1969 when one of his songs, ''Leaving on a Jet Plane'', was turned into a hit by Peter, Paul and Mary. He began performing his own compositions, like ''Sunshine on my Shoulders'', and ''Thank God I'm a Country Boy''. Eight of his albums went platinum with sales of more than a million, and John Denver's Greatest Hit has sold 10 million world- wide.

He is best known for ''Annie's Song'', written for his first wife. Its lyrics were typical of his folk-pop tunes and their simple, Western themes: "You fill up my senses, like a night in the forest, like the mountains in spring time, like a walk in the rain.'' The World Wide Web site for his fan club yesterday carried the message: ''Though the singer is silent, there is still truth in his song.''