Guardian 04.08.2007


Red Elvis: American who became Soviet star

Kate Connolly in Berlin

He was a hero to millions across the Soviet empire and Latin America, and the idol of teenage girls who heard him croon about his love of communism.

Now, 20 years after he killed himself, the American protest singer Dean Reed is the subject of a documentary film. Red Elvis, which opened in German cinemas this week, has reawakened memories of a man considered a real catch by communist authorities but who was almost unknown in the west.

"I was sure we had got ourselves a Hollywood star," Egon Krenz, the last leader of East Germany, says in the film.

It became the fallacy on which Reed's career was built. "His life was dominated by his longing for success and his naive political engagement," said the director of Red Elvis, Leopold Grün.

After his dream of stardom in the US in the 1960s failed, Reed turned to Latin America, where his records sold well and he began to be seen as an all-American hero. He toured Chile, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina and embraced Marxism. His records sold millions, even though many critics said he could not sing.

In 1971 he made the German Democratic Republic his home. The government gave him a lakeside residence for which he paid a peppercorn rent, and in return Reed visited schools, factories and workers' clubs where he sang his pro-Marxist protest songs.

But in the 1980s his popularity waned as the restlessness that led to the fall of communism set in. Reed also became disillusioned. Stopped by East German police for speeding in 1981 he got out of his Lada and screamed: "I'm as fed up with the system as the other 17 million!"

The fascination with Reed, who still has a strong fan base, is likely to continue. Director Steven Spielberg is to make a feature film about him in which Tom Hanks is to play Reed.

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Letzte Änderung: 2007-08-09