Colorado Heritage, Winter 1999
Values in Conflict
The Singing Marxist
Dean Reed, a seventeen-year-old Wheat Ridge High School track star, bets twenty-five cents that he can beat Speedy the mule in a foot race. After the two day, 110-mile contest, Reed collapes as he crosses the finish line - three minutes ahead of Speedy. It is the principle of the thing, says Reed: Man is faster than mule; that was all he wanted to prove. The principle. Dean Reed is big on principle.
Dean Reed, born in 1938 and reared in suburban Denver's Wheat Ridge, has always accomplished what he puts his mind to. He begins playing the guitar at age twelve, hoping it will give him confidence around girls. As a high school senior in 1956, he excels in track, chorus, the a capella club, student council, boy's club, assembly, citizenship, and intramurals. An all-around fellow. During two summer vacations he plays guitar at Harmony Guest Ranch near Estes Park, sometimes donating his earnings to the American Cancer Society. He even performs at Phipps Auditorium in Denver.
Norman Vincent Peale's "The Power of Positive Thinking" is on his bookshelf and in his soul. Reed is handsome and cheerful. Upon graduation in 1956, he attends the University of Colorado in Boulder to study meteorology. He would look great as a television weatherman.
At C.U., Reed earns average to above-average scholastic marks, but it is in extracurricular activities that he excels: He joins the gymnastics team; becomes president of the gymnastics honorary organization which performs for high schools, clubs, and half-time shows at basketball games; joins the Independent Students' Association; and performs in the music group Sock and Buskin. He continues playing guitar and singing folk music, popular ballads, and country-and-western music.
An all-around fellow.
Talent scout Roy Eberhart is in one of Reed's audiences. Eberhart convinces Reed to go to Hollywood and, after completing his sophomore year, Reed drops out of CU. He packs his guitar, demonstration records, and Eberhart's letter of introduction into his white Chevrolet convertible, and watches the Rocky Mountains shrink in the rearview mirror.
In Arizona, a poorly dressed hitchhiker catches his attention. Ever friendly and willing to help out, Reed invites him into the car. The wanderer notices Reed's guitar and proposes a deal: If Reed pays for a night in a hotel, the hitchhiker will give him the name of an agent. Reed accepts, less out of naïveté than generosity. Amazingly, the wanderer is a genuine representative of Capitol Records - a real-life agent who agrees to listen to Reed's songs. Within days, Reed has a seven-year contract to record with Capitol.
Reed does a screen test and signs a contract with Warner Brothers' star school. Reed appears in a few television shows, and in movies as a walk-on and a bit player. It is 1958, and Reed is an attractive twenty-year-old in the nursery of stars.
The Warner Brothers school acting coach, Paton Price, whose students have included Dick Clark, Jean Seberg, and Don Murray, becomes Reed's mentor. Reed's mother, Ruth Anna, interprets this as a manifestation of Reed's ongoing desire for his father's approval. After all, there are three children in the family and Reed is not close to his brothers. Reed soon moves in with Price and his wife. Of the lessons he will value most from Price is the idea that art should be a mode of promoting one's beliefs.
By 1960, Reed has recorded four albums. "Our Summer Romance" is a regional success in the southwestern United States and, something as a surprise, in South America! That summer, he stages a pair of concerts back at his alma mater, C.U. A fan club of 6,000 members in the Rocky Mountain region worships him.
Two years later, his songs still appeal to a limited pop-music audience, but he has yet to gain any significant film or TV roles. That spring of 1962, Capitol Records dispatches Reed on a forty-day tour of Brazil, Chile, and Peru to promote his latest album, which includes a composition of his own, "Once Again". Police officers must hold back screaming teenage fans. That never happened in the United States.
Reed loves Chile. A year after "Our Summer Romance" goes to the top of the Chilean charts, Dean Reed surpasses Elvis Presley in the South American Hit Parade polls. In March 1962, without informing his agent or his mother, he leaves Hollywood for Santiago, Chile. Immediately, fans searm aound him. Chilean disc jockeys - some of whom had underestimated his popularity, describing his work as mediocre - now witness the power over a crowd of his sexy smile and blue eyes. He is billed as "The Magnificent Gringo," although not all native appreciate his presence: Disc jockey Ricardo Garcia sees Reed as "a naïve gringo come to 'do' Latin America." Perhaps Reed begins his Latin American sojourn exactly that way, giving concerts and flashing his U.S. essence, but it is in Latin America that the "naïve gringo" now will discover politics.
Or politics will discover Reed.
Reed is among other attractive North American stars in Chile, but he is the only one now hefting a burning political message. During his travels, the sharp divergence between rich and poor has nagged at him. He recalls Paton Price's advice to use art to advance one's cause. Reed can save the world, be believes, from hatred, violence, war. Shortly after establishing himself in Chile, he paces newspaper advertisements decrying atomic testing. On April 26, 1962, Reed writes a letter to the Chilean people urging them to urge President Kennedy to
stop the scheduled atomic tests. Each test of Russia or the United States of ten megatons condemns 15,000 children not yet born to a life of misery or a premature death. Already, due to the last Russian tests, thousands of children in all part of the world will be born invalid, blind, or with only one arm... save the children of the future.
The American Embassy warns him to watch his words. Reed tells the ambassador, "I only talked of saving lives and of peace. I hope to God that that is not against the policy of the United States."
"President Kennedy," the ambassador informs him, "has explained that we must do this to keep Communism out. Do you want to live under Communism?"
"No. But before I kill myself and the rest of humanity, yes!"
Reed embraces the adventure of his new activism; realitiy is much more exciting than being in the movies. Because the populace loves him, he is able to convince them how to vote. The poets Pablo Neruda and Victor Jara, and the political figure Salvador Allende, take Reed in as one of their own, an outspoken radical in revolulionary times. Reed has found a cause and a community.
Partly because of the promotion resulting from his ideology, his career blossoms. He is popular (though intensely disliked by some right-wing conservatives in Chile), handsome, flashy, and he acts as an emissary pf peace. By 1964, he and his new wife, Patricia, whom he met in Hollywood, live in a suburban villa in Buenos Aires. Reed stars in a television series. He films a Mexican movie. In Chile, he earns $ 1,500 a day singing for wealthy people. He also sings peace songs for the downtrodden workers, and pickets embassies of countries testing nuclear weapons.
In response to an attack on their house, the Reeds buy guns. It is a plot-thickener in the adventure story that is Dean Reed's life. The U.S. State Department sends him warnings about propagating anti-American values. The FBI, wary of his views that the U.S. should disinvolve itself in the Vietnam conflict and halt all nuclear activity, is secretly tracking Reed's movements. Reed is clearly famous now.
Fifteen days after his twenty-sixth birthday, Reed reflects on the past year during a brief trip to Oceanside, California. The letter is apparently written to himself:
November 7, 1964
One of the greatest events which took place this year was the passing of the Civil Rights Bill and the receiving of the Nobel Prize for Peace by Martin Luther King. Now at least by law the Negros [sic] have the right to enter a restaurant or a hotel. It will still take many years for the legal law to become a moral law in the minds of men - but at least the first step has been taken. As each year goes by I am surer that Pacifism must become a way of life for the subjected peoples and countries to gain their rights and liberties. Now these peoples and countries have an example which they can look to which can guide their "peaceful revolutions" in the person of Martin King. He has shown the world that pacifism is a force and a very strong force. He has shown that it does not mean sitting on one's ass and letting the other person or country take advantage of you. He has shown that no sissies and cowards are pacifists but that only the most courageous of men can be pacifists. May the Latin American people study our "Negro Revolution" and may they use it as a guideline for their revolutions, before bloody revolutions take place by the subjected peoples against their military dictatorships.
I look toward the future year with much hope - I am sure that it will bring the most happy and calm year of my life. I believe that in the coming year my wife and I will go to Europe for the first time and I forsee making our home in a European country.
Reed indeed will reside on the other side of the Atlantic, but in a place further east than he anticipated - and perhaps further right on the political spectrum.
The Iron Curtain begins to part for him on July 15, 1965 in Helsinki, Finland, where he performs before the World Peace Congress. This is the biggest audience for which he has ever played. Reed, a representative of Argentina, sings "Marianna," cowboy songs, and rock and roll. The delegates remain mute and unresponsive. Dean bounds from the stage into the people and make them join hands. After they start chuckling at his unusually buoyant performance, he jumps back onstage and leads them in "We Shall Overcome."
Nikolai Pastoukhov, head of the Soviet Youth Organization and a delegate to the peace conference, observes how this good-looking, Socialist-inclined American warms the crowd whose members have been bickering for days. Here, Pastoukhov realizes, is an entertainer who can feed the Soviet masses their daily diet of western culture without corrupting their beliefs - exactly the antidote for the restive Soviets. He invites Reed into his train bound for Moscow.
Reed is elated by the attendion and the possibility of a new market. He returns to South America but cannot stop thinking about the near-Utopia he believes he has found. In a September 22, 1965, birthday letter written to himself and occasionally employing misspellings and confusing wording, he muses about the advantages of the Soviet system and an individual's responsibility to be active in politics:
This past year has been a year of deep probing and searching for me - I am more convinced than ever that it is the obligation of every man - no matter if he be a carpenter, poet, bricklayer, or a taxi driver - to also be part politican and to take a part in the life of his barrio, country, and planet. The politicians will tell us to leave the running of the countries up to them, and with good motives, it is like the thieves telling the police not to bother them while they are robbing the people.
Whether each country progresses or retards depends on each citizen of each country... how can the average man not take a stand in politics? He must have some ideas on whether it be right or wrong that there be slaves in the world, whether they be political slaves or economical slaves. He must have some ideas on whether he wants to leave the future of his wife and children up to the hands of some other politician or military man who might be insane. Each man must be part politician for he is to blame for whatever happens to him and his family in the future.
A few paragraphs later, Reed praises the Soviet system, somehow missing the obvious discrepancy between his former belief that indivuduals should have control over their political destinies, and the latter that life's difficulties are taken care of by the politicians:
Probagly my greatest surprise during my trip inside the Soviet Union was to find that in the Communist countries of Russia and Czechoslovakia I found the people have more liberty from fear of the future, they have liberty from fear of old age, liberty from fear of illness, from lack of work. They have liberty of fear from being cheated from their fellow man every day of their life. They [sic] dedicate his life to is art or his work, and not have to dedicate his life to the making of money. I saw a man that from the time he is born, he is assured a good job, a house, clothes, doctors, and a good life when he becomes too old to [work]. I saw a man that didn't have to cheat his fellow man each day just to make sure that his wife would [sic] die of hunger in the streets... There should be no country off limits for citizens to travel to, there should be no books prohibited to read. We must sit down and choose the better of two points of view always - it won't be the ideal, but it will be the better of two systems.
Reed and wife Patricia maintain their residence in Argentina, though he travels frequently to Spain and Italy. In Spain, he makes movies that appeal to teenagers; in Italy, he stars in eleven Italian-made "spaghetti western" movies. Europe is a new and interesting experience, but in 1966 he makes a singing tour through the Soviet Union. The rush he feels when young Soviet scream his name will eventually lure him east for good.
Accordingly, Pastoukhov arranges a recording contract for Reed with Melodiya Records. The result is the first rock-and-roll record the Soviet state recording agency has ever produced. Reed's official overseer is the ministry of culture. Reed, Soviet propaganda claims, is unable to record in the United States because of his ideology. The young people clamoring for hs music do not care. He is an American singing popular music from the West to them, and that is all that matters. On his first tour of the Soviet Union, he plays in twenty-eight cities and makes rock video recordings. One Soviet will later reminisce about Reed's popularity: "He wore cowboy boots and he came from the land of the free and the home of the brave and Chuck Berry. He meant everything."
Reed's repertoire consists of folk songs, ballads, show tunes, and a few anti-war songs of his own composition. A Soviet journalist in 1966 calls Reed "a highly talented performer" who exhibits "fankness bordering at times on the naïve."
In 1967, residing in Rome, Reed and three other foreign celebrities address demonstrators rallying against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. A few months later he writes a letter to the "International Herald Tribune" decrying the "free" elections in Vietnam. Neither the letter nor the rally escapes the attention of the sedition-wary FBI.
For the next two years, Reeds devides his time between promoting South American peace and reform, and filming westerns in Italy. While in Rome he writes an open letter to the magazine Ogonyok lauding the Soviet system and comparing it favoragly to the United States, which Reed deems "the most violent society ever known to mankind." Reed accuses the U.S. government of promulgating racism and repression, rather than freedom of expression. "Try and spread these [freedom of speech] thought," he challenges an anti-Soviet, "among the suffering nations who have to fight for their existence and who have to live against their will under the pressure of a dictatorial regime which stays in power only because of United States military help." He goes on to make astonishing claim that U.S. citizens would be lucky to live under socialism, because currently "half of [United States] children die at birth because there is no money for doctors." His own daughter, Ramona, is born in May 1968. He and his wife Patricia are ecstatic, fot they have been hoping for a child for several years.
A U.S. State Department official stationed in Chile views Reed as an incompetent nuisance. A classified document refers to Reed as a "particulary obnoxious character," who "attacks the United States in a fashion so hysterically scurrilous that it is clear why he lives abroad." The official snidely asserts that:
Reed's boyish good looks have attracted a following among local teeny-boppers, but that is about the extent of his gifts as a performer. When Reed appeared at one of Salvador Allende's major inauguration celebrations, he was booed off the stage by the assembled populace for his obvious lack of singing talent. He was again jeered during his appearance at the Viña del Mar Song Festival in February, where he greeted his sophisticated urban audence as "li'l cowpokes and cowgirls" and resorted once more to a stale repertory. His durability as a newsworthy personality derives from his anti-American and well publicized political stunts, which his fans consider courageous.
Though Reed would not appreciate the term "stunts", he inarguably seeks out the media spotlight. In 1970, a week prior to the election of Chilean president Salvador Allende, he is arrested for washing a U.S. flag in front of Santiago's U.S. consulate. He explains that he is symbolically cleansing the flag, which is "dirty with the blood of the Vietnamese people and of all people under dictatorship that the U.S. government politically, ecenomically, and militarily defends against the wills of the people." Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda helps secure his release from jail. Allende, who wins by a 1 percent margin, invites Reed to his presidential inauguration. Allende supporters feel certain that the press coverage of Reed's flag-washing swayed enough voters to win the close election. Indeed, this event earned a short writeup in some U.S. newspapers.
Argentina, which views his politics as increasingly and unacceptably radical, warns him to stay out of the country. In 1971 Reed protests that dictum as a point of conscience and smuggles himself into the country though Uruguay. He is immediately arrested and detained in prison for twenty days. The petition of students, artists, and workers gain his release from prison. Argentina boots him out of the country and tells him not to come back.
The attacks on Reed strengthen the loyality of his socialist fans and bolster his own sense of importance. Reed considers popularity vital to his emotional survival. "I need it," he tells a friend. "I can't live without it. It's a drug." He tells a reporter: "Fame for me has only one value: Service in the cause of peace and bringing peoples together." That was his reason for making Italian spaghetti westerns, he claims - to earn money and gain popularity. Still, the price for his passion for protest results in his wife, Patricia, becoming frustrated and filing for divorce. She takes their three-year-old daughter to California and begins a new life.
Reed will not be deterred from his mission of peace. He spends four months on behalf of Chilean trade unions, then decides it is time to leave the country he considers his second homeland and head to the East. He writes a passionate farewell letter to the Chilean people assuring them that
we shall see each other spiritually in each place where there is an injustice to combat. We shall see each other in each place where there are farmers, workers, students and intellectualss who are awakening and who are fighting for a world of justice and peace... Never give up. The truth has value - follow it until the end. I shall always be at your service.
By 1971, Dean Reed unquestionably has become the USSR's biggest (and first) authentic superstar. Audiences particularly favor his rendition of "My Yiddishe Mama." Tickets are scalped for as much as forty rubles (forty-eight dollars). His popularity is encouraged by the state, for after all, on state television, he attacks the "dirty government" of the United States, and expresses hope that one day a "clean American flag will fly over socialist America." Americans living in Russia cannot understand his enormous popularity. Reed himself tells a U.S. reporter that "I'm popular because I can communicate emotions. Compared to Russian artists who are stiff in stage manner, I'm open. I don't let the stage seperate me and the audience." In spring 1972, for example, he leaps from the stage, grabs an attractive woman from the front row of the audience, and whispers in Russian, "You are very beautiful. Are you married?"
Other Eastern Bloc countries follow the U.S.S.R., and woo Reed. The Young Communist League of Czechoslovakia awards him a medal; Hungary gives him a peace prize; 1972 marks the year he makes his first East German film, "The Good for Nothing," which spurs women to follow him in the streets and try to rip off his clothing. In 1973 he marries an East German interpreter, Wiebke, and they settle in a plush, lakeside villa in an East Berlin suburb. Reed does not spend much time at home, however, as he has the world to save. He attends the 1973 Asian Peace Converence in Dacca, Bangladesh, as a delegate from the United States - unusual if only because few Americans have heard his name, let alone his music. At the 1973 World Congress of Peace Forces, he also represents the United States, singing his own upbeat composition, "We Shall Say 'Yes'." He dines with Middle Eastern leaders. He stars in a 1974 German film "Kit and Company," and soon after playes a pacifist cowboy in "Blood Brothers," the latter which becomes East Germany's most popular film of 1975. Two years later, Wiebke gives birth to Natasha, Reed's second daughter.
Contrary to reports by communist newspapers, Reed has not been expelled from the United States; he simply chooses to live abroad and pursue his causes of peace in political climates he feels are closer to that ideal than is the U.S. He regularly updates his American passport and calls himself an "independent Marxist."
In 1976 Reed begins work on "El Cantor," a biographical movie about the final days of matyred Chilean poet-singer Victor Jara. He writes the script, directs the film, and serves as the primary songwriter; additionally, he stars in it. Reed hopes that ultimately he film will raise world consciousness about Chile's fight against fascism.
Reed flies to Moscow to accept the Soviet Peace Prize in January 1978. That same year, he finally tells Wiebke he no longer wants to be married to her. She is not surprised; after all, he has made little effort to hide his interest in other women. Soon he marries Renate Blum, an East German actress he has known for several years. He stays at their suburban Berlin home on a fairly regular basis, though by now most of his albums are being cut in Prague and his tours take him to venues throughout eastern Europe. He is still the best-known American behind the Iron Curtain.
On a trip to the United States at the end of October 1978, Reed joines a group of farmers in Minnesota who are protesting the building of power lines across their land. The singer and his friends are arrested for trespassing (as they had hoped they would be) and, instead of paying the three-hundred-dollar fine, they choose to be thrown into jail. Of his four arrests, this is the first jail time in his own country. On a hunger strike, he loses seventeen pounds and wakes up the other prisoners every morning by singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" and international peace songs. The sleepy prisoners bellow at him to stop singing, but their irritation does not bother Reed, for he is spreading peace. He writes:
I have been accused of trespass, but I am the accuser, and my finger is pointing at the large U.S. coal companies who plan to make huge profits through the building of these power lines. They are the trespassers! ... It has been one of the great honors of my life to have been on a hunger strike in my cell for the past eleven days with my friends sitting here.
In the meantime, friends and peace advocates in East Germany and elsewhere petition President Carter to free him. Soviet news crews rush to the scene, for from their perspective, this is a perfect example of U.S. human rights abuses. After eleven days, Reed and his fellow protesters are released. At the trial, they are acquitted. Local law officers scoff at the incident, saying that the planned arrest and subsequent day-long trial was never a big deal to anyone but the propaganda-rich Communist press. Reed, convinced that the U.S. is "afraid of me and my politics," argues that his release is unusual. "There are thousands of political prisoners in the U.S. who aren't so lucky," he argues. Reed writes that by that time he had convinced other prisoners to join in song with him, "and it was sad to leave some of them when we finally got our freedom." FBI and East German agencies both suspect that this is a publicity stunt on Reed's part.
The other highlight of Reed's 1978 visit to the United States is a reconciliation with his father, Cyril. In Arizona, the elder Reed hates Marxists and follows Barry Goldwater loyally. Still, father and son agree to put aside their political differences and renew their relationship.
In 1980 Reed - now termed "the Red Sinatra" - is still living with Renate in their villa at Schmockwitz, on the outskirts of East Berlin. He continues singing at peace festivals and performing to sold-out crowds. None-theless, the forty-two-year-old crooner worries if his voice will go, and wonders how long he will remain a heart-throb. He begins to desperately long for Colorado, the place of his youth. The two-story Wheat Ridge bungalow with the chicken coop in the back yard now belongs to someone else, because his parents got divorced after his brothers left home, but he misses even the house. In the Wheat Ridge that exists no longer in Colorado but in Reed's memory, residents once rode horses around town. He yearns for ice cream, hamburgers, his own language, Skippy crunchy peanut butter, and spaghetti. Though he can speak rudimentary Spanish, Russian, German, and Italian, he has little opportunity to communicate in English. He does not live in his native country or in his native language, which is beginning to wear on him. He runs up large phone bills talking to Colorado friends who remain convinced that Reed coud start a career in the United States. He tells people that he would like to return someday, that he does not wish to die on foreign soil.
Chances of beginning a career in the U.S. are unrealistic - not, as the Eastern press insists, because of Reed's radical political beliefs, but because becoming a star in the United States at the beginning of the Reagan era would be nearly imposssible for a graying Marxist idealist who croons outdated peace songs.
In keeping with his desire to demonstrate world injustice, Reed in 1981 decides to produce a movie about a 1973 incident in South Dakota, in which some 200 militant Native Americans occupied the village of Wounded Knee, site of an 1890 armed conflict between Army troops and Indians. The 1973 Wounded Knee occupation saw gunfire between Indians and state and federal lawmen, lasted for seventy days, and resulted in the deaths of two Indians.
Reeds writes the screenplay and plans to portray a journalist. His wife, Renate, will play a photographer. Interest in American Indians run high behind the Iron Curtain. especially since the FBI is the antagonist. The movie "Wounded Knee" is to be a cooperative film venture between the Soviets and Germans. Reed will pursue the project until his death.
In 1984 Cyril Reed, Dean's father, commits suicide because he is frustrated at not being able to afford a new artificial leg. (His leg had been lost in a farm accident years earlier.) Reed, stricken, tells reporters that if only the U.S. had socialized medicine, his father would have been able to afford a leg. "Why didn't you buy him one?" someone asks. Reed responds that his father was too proud to ever accept help.
In October 1985 Reed visits Denver for the first time in twenty-five years. The occasion: the Denver International Film Festival, which includes a screening of a documentary on Reed's life, "American Rebel." Critics pan the one-sided representation of Dean's life, saying it "misses the man's humanity." No one in the modestly filled theatre tears off Reed's clothing.
While in Denver, Reed appears as a guest on KNUS Radio's Peter Boyles talk show. It is a volatile pairing: During their chat, Boyles insists that the Marxist government in Ethiopia caused nationwide famine, and Reed responds with, "You're talking just like the neo-Nazis that killed [radio talk host] Alan Berg here." Boyles, who seldom loses his composure, orders Reed off the air and admits later that he had to stifle an urge to strike Reed. The pacifist Reed regrets the hostile exchange, and gets a bodyguard for the remainder of his public appearances in Denver.
By 1986 Reed is dedicated more strongly than ever to finish "Wounded Knee". He stays up late rewriting the script, worrying about his voice and his aging babyface. Youngsters in Moscow no longer grab at his clothing when he walks down the street, which he does every few weeks to communicate with the Moscow film studio.
His latest album gathers dust in Moscow record stores. He and Renate have spent too much time bickering, and his ulcer is worsening. Hopes of beginning a career in the United States fade as the years pass and his friend's letters arrive less and less often. He wonders if he has truly spread peace throughout the world.
In Denver in the spring of 1986, entertainment editor Dick Kreck of The Denver Post receives a six-page pencil handwritten letter from Reed, who extols life behind the Iron Curtain and laments that though he is content with his residency there, he wishes he could return home to make Americans understand his message. The letter is so odd that Kreck discards it and forgets about it.
On April 1, 1986, a segment of "60 Minutes" devoted to Dean Reed airs in the United States. Until then, few people, save Russian émigrés, have heard of him. Now, ordinary America watches Reed equate Ronald Reagan with Stalin and defend the Berlin Wall and sees him dance with Yassir Arafat. Titled "The Defector," The program elicits angy letters calling Reed a traitor, a terrorist, and a fraud. From his home in East Germany, Reed pores over every letter. He knows now that he will never have a career in the United States.
Reed works obsessively casting and creating sets for "Wounded Knee." He strives for high-quality production, but the equipment is forty years out of date. Weary of portaying simple-minded singing cowboys, he cannot wait to be taken seriously in a serious film. Filming is scheduled to begin June 24, 1986, although tiny doubts nag Reed about whether the project will ever come to fruition. Mainly, there is the question of Soviet backing. Is Moscow sincere about his film? Reed sometime wonders. Reed's own stardom is fading daily, and it depresses him
At the beginning of June, Reed clutches his chest in pain, goes to bed, and refuses to let Renate call a doctor. A few days later the two argue and when she knocks on the door of his study, he opens the door slowly. In horror, Renate watches him take a film-prop machete off the wall and slice his arm fifty times. They are superficial cuts, but to Renate, the drama of the situation seems disproportionate.
Thursday, June 12, 1986. Renate and Reed argue at dinner, then Reed takes his accustomed sleeping pill and prepares for bed. About 10 p.m. he speakes on the phone with his "Wounded Knee" producer Gerrit List, and decides to drive that evening to List's home close to the film studio so they can get an early start the following morning.
Reed never arrives at List's home.
The next morning Renate drives to the studio and inquires as to her husband. No one had seen him, and they are irritated with him for not showing up on time. List sends Renate home and calls everywhere Reed might be. He cannot be found, and they hesitate on notifying the police because of possible undesirable publicity.
Saturday, June 14. A Britsh journalist calls for a pre-arranged phone interview with Reed. Unwilling to let the man know that Reed has disappeared, List and Renate tell him that Reed is in the hospital, and to call back in a few days. Renate is frantic. She hopes Reed is with another woman, that he has not been in a terrible accident.
Sunday, June 15. Empoyees of the lifeguard station at a lake about a mile from the Reed's home inform the police that a car has been at that place sins at least Friday morning. It is Reed's car. That same day, Renate finally calls the police and reports ther husband missing.
Tuesday morning, June 17. A body is found in the lake.
Reed's car contains magazines his mother had sent him, his father's last letter to him, and his American passport. The body is clothed in a jacket given Reed by a Colorado friend, and an overcoat. But it was a warm, humid summer night. And Reed, the former lifeguard, had excellent swimming skills.
Theories abound, none of them quite satisfactory to those who know Reed. At first, the East German police propose that it was suicide. When Reed's first wife, Patrica, and Reed's mother, Ruth Anna Brown, arrive for the funeral, however, the police change the cause to accidental downing.
The autopsy report discloses an enlarged liver, like that of an alcoholic. Because of his ulcer, Reed rarely drank, although that evening he had taken a glass of wine with dinner - several hours before leaving the house. The report deems as toxic the amount of a sedative in his bloodstream. Although the report says the body was underwater for four days, water has touched neither his wallet nor his lungs. Though Reed had several notable scars from operations, the report neglects to mention their presence. A bruise is on the forehaed and the face is blackened bot not swollen, despite the apparent four days in the water.
The coroner tells Reed's mother, Ruth Anna Brown, that the amount of satative in Reed's bloodstream amounted to very little. He agrees, when she presses him, to put the body on view for the family. However, when he goes to retrieve it, he discovers that Reed's film production company has moved it to the crematorium without authorization. The body is retrieved, and Patricia Reed finally views it eleven days after Reed's disappearance. She recognizes his toes extending from beneath the sheet, but whether she views the face is never fully addressed. The police do not want to talk to the quizzical American friends and family members. Why, Reed's mother wondered, do the police keep changing their story? Was the body floating or was it trapped under a rock? Renate is given sedatives.
Brown says she has "2,600 scenarios, and the last one seems better than the one before." Some surmise that the East German government or the Soviet secret police murdered Reed because he wanted to return to the United States, thus somehow embarrassing them. Others wonder if Americans, either individual rightwingers or the government, killed him because they thought he was a traitor, a nuisance, a weirdo. Maybe the Czech government, with wich Reed had a falling out, killed him out of spite. What about jealous ex-lovers? Was Reed really a spy? Was the body in the lake really that of Reed?
Perhaps Reed took his own life. He had publicly stated that he did not want to grow old in a forign country; he was now learning that he was not welcome in his own country, and facing the possibility of a desolate future was difficult for him. His third marriage was failing and his "Wounded Knee" project appeared to be doomed.
It could have been an accident, of course. Perhaps Reed wandered disoriented into the lake. Perhaps he was drowsy and fell into the water. A theory exists, greatly hypothetical but nurtured by apparent inexact investigative work, that the body so quickly cremated might not be that of Reed at all, and that he faked his own death and disappeared.
The possibilities seem endless, and Reed's family and friends will spend the rest of their lives wondering exactly what happened. Reed's will designates most of his estate for Renate, leaving only a pittance for her son Sasha and his daughter Natasha. His eldest daughter, Ramona, living in California with her mother Patrica Reed, receives nothing.
Following cremation, Renate has the ashes buried near their home. In 1991, however, she and Ruth Anna Brown agree that Reed would have wanted to be buried in Colorado. Brown sends for the ashes, and after a delay of more than a month, they finaly arrive for interment in Boulder's Green Mountain Cemetery. Dean Reed is home.
Ariana Harner, editor of the Society's "Colorado History Now" newspaper, researched and wrote this article.
The article regarding the odd saga of Coloradan Dean Reed was taken from contemporary press reports; from Reggie Nadelson, Comrade Rockstar (London: Chatto & Windus, 1991); from the Dean Reed manuscript collection number 1455 at the Colorado Historical Society in Denver, which includes Reed's personal communications, scrapbooks, record albums, clippings from international and U.S. publications; and from FBI files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.