Poems, Prayers and Promises

updated 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

IF HIS MUSIC TENDED TOWARD THE dreamy, offstage John Denver was a daredevil. He "absolutely went for it in life," said old friend Tom Crum, listing Denver's adventures: diving "headfirst" off 30-foot cliffs, skiing "full throttle" or swimming among humpback whales 85 feet deep—even as his scuba gear was failing. His most perilous hobby, of course, was flying.

Celebrating Denver's love of life as well as his capacity for friendship before 1,500 friends, family members and fans who gathered Oct. 18 at the Aspen Music Tent amphitheater, Crum paid tribute to the singer and amateur pilot who died Oct. 12 when his experimental aircraft plunged mysteriously into the waters off Monterey, Calif. It was the second memorial in as many days, 2,000 mourners having attended an Oct. 17 service in Faith Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Colo., near the Mile High City from which Denver took his stage name.

In Aspen, Annie Martell Denver, the first of his two wives, recalled how "he was always there for me," faithfully sending her flowers on her birthday every year since their 1983 divorce. "I said, 'John, it's so wonderful of you,' " she told him a few weeks ago. "And he just sort of paused and very softly said, 'Oh, but Annie, I love you.' " Country star Lyle Lovett, one of 30 people to sing or speak, agreed that generosity was essential to the man. "John Denver was a hero to me, a teacher," said Lovett, a close friend of Denver's. "Listening to his songs helped teach me what a song was and what a song should be about."

Denver, whose ashes are to be scattered over the Rockies, died doing what he loved. In tribute, saxophonist Paul Winter played "Icarus," a song about the mythical boy who perished when he flew too close to the sun. Denver himself seemed to foretell his end with a lyric in "Rocky Mountain High": "And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun/ And he lost a friend but he kept his memory." As Cassie Delaney, his second wife, put it, "He is now an angel with wings to watch over us all."


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