The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars:
Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches
Chicago Review Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-1556527548, 624 pages
Chapter about Dean Reed: June 1986, Friday 13
Chicago Review Press, 2012. Second Edition. ISBN: 978-1613744789, 768 pages
Did you know that Brian Jones was told by a medium to "avoid water"? Or that Buddy Holly only decided to fly so he'd have time to finish his laundry? The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars reveals the truth behind these and thousands of other fascinating stories, while answering such perennial questions as:
The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars is the bible of pop music's dead - the ultimate record of all those who arrived, rocked, and checked out over the last forty-odd years of fast cars, private jets, hard drugs, lethal weapons, and reckless living. Jeremy Simmonds here draws on a lifetime's obsession to match the industry's biggest departed stars - Buddy, Jeff, Sid, Jimi, Biggie, Janis, Elvis, Marc, Tupac - with more than a few lesser-known tales of rock tragedy. He also includes a smorgasbord of lighter-hearted sidebars, including strange facts, lucky escapes, and top-ten death discs.
An indispensable reference full of useful and useless information, with hundreds of photos of the good, the bad, and the silly, The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars is guaranteed to rock the world of trivia buffs and diehards alike.
(Wheat Ridge, Denver, Colorado, 22. September 1938)
At one point, Dean Reed might have been able to present a case for being the 'biggest rock star you never heard of'. His story is one of the most interesting in a decade that appeared to do its utmost to encourage the wannabe and discourage any form of conscience in rock 'n' roll. In truth, Reed was neither great singer nor great guitarist, but he possessed an extraordinary yearning to make a name for himself as a young man, no matter what path he was to follow. At seventeen, this 'path' was over 110 miles of rocky terrain that the headstrong youth, desperate to prove himself, chose to run for a bet: he won - a shiny quarter - beating a mule and rider. It was a typical response to challenge for a man who had had the need to win drummed into him by a strict father. Reed's relationship with his father, Cyril, somehow remained strong, despite the corporal punishment dished out to him and - most significantly - despite his father's rightwing views and support of the John Birch Society. The irony in this would become apparent when Reed hit his stride as a young singer. Having attended a military academy in deference to his father's wishes, Reed, disillusioned after graduation by the continuing Cold War, set about changing his world. And that of everyone else.
Dean Reed originally wanted to become a weather reporter, but he quit meteorological studies in Colorado to travel to Hollywood, fascinated by this new 'rock 'n' roll thing'. A chance meeting with a man on the road put him in touch with a Capitol Records boss - and he somehow got a recording contract. To his credit, Reed refused to rest on his laurels and enrolled in drama school, where he befriended the already famous Phil Everly (of The Everly Brothers) and also tutor Paton Price - a traditional liberal who was the first to encourage Reed's political ventures. With his records selling poorly in the US, Reed worked as an actor while he tried and tried again to make a musical breakthrough. In the end, his breakthrough came when one of his records, 'Our Summer Romance' (1959), became a massive hit in South America; Reed upped and left to visit Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Argentina, where, to his astonishment, he was greeted like a hero. And hero he was to many South Americans: the majority had yet to witness a young American prepared to criticize openly his country's leaders while befriending repressed performers and dissidents, happy to play prisons for free - even on a couple of occasions risking jail himself. His career barely out of the starting blocks at home, Reed stayed put. His South American experience showed the singer pretty starkly the injustices rife within these countries, while also exposing him to a large amount of ill-feeling towards his home nation. In 1966, a mistrustful Argentine government declared him persona non grata and packed him off back home.
But, delighted with the platform his fame had given him, Reed began to attend international peace conferences. Next, dubbed 'The Red Elvis', he became a sensation to Soviet youngsters force-fed Soviet music and starved of Western entertainment. Nobody behind the Iron Courtain had ever seen a singer in leathers and cowboy boots, and Reed was lapped up like the finest cream. According to Everly, who travelled there to play a series of shows as his old friend's guest, Reed 'couldn't leave his house without being mobbed'. By the time Reed reached East Germany he was already a megastar. His movie career - which had included a series of high-profile spaghetti Westerns while he lived in Italy during the late sixties - was refreshed here and, marrying for a third time (the beautiful actress Renate Blume), he settled now in Berlin. By 1985 the couple were planning to appear opposite one another in a Reed-penned movie called Bloody Heart.
Reed's career, however, began un unravel with the arrival of Glasnost in the early eighties. Young Russians how had a number of indigenous pop stars of whom they could be proud. Reed was suddenly seen as outmoded - a pawn for the establishment - and his sales plummeted spectacularly as a result. The man who had only wanted the world's different cultures to live in harmony was interpreted now as a mere panderer to controlling forces who, in the eyes of the young and forthright, had had their day. A severely disillusioned Reed felt a return to his native land would be the only way to save a career that had suddenly turned distinctly sour; he had, after all, always maintained his US passport and had made IRS contributions since his twenties. In October 1985, he visited the US to attend a Denver film festival - because it featured a piece about himself - and rediscovered a love for his country. While in the US, Reed played a low-profile concert in Loveland, Colorado; it was a stark contrast to all the adulation he had received in theatres across the world, and was to be the only performance be ever gave in his native country.
Back with Blume in East Germany, Reed was still determined to create something of a career in the US - and a final opportunity arrived in the shape of an interview with CBS flagship current-affairs show 60 Minutes. The interview (shot in East Berlin and broadcast across the US in April 1986) began well enough, but Reed's apparent support for Mikhail Gorbachev and condemnation of Ronald Reagan was seen as 'pro-commie' to a middle America that hadn't moved on as much a he'd perhaps hoped. To top this, Reed then provoked a barrage of hate mail by appearing to come out in defence of the Berlin Wall; any musical comeback in his own land was effectively scuppered there and then. (This compunded the storm of protest that had greeted Reed's earlier references, on a KNUS Denver radio slot, to local broadcaster Alan Berg, assassinated by Aryan supremacists two years previously.)
A desperate Dean Reed, his career in tatters, now had only Bloody Heart left - and when this, too, began to suffer from funding problems, he disappeared, on the night of 12 June. Days of searching came to an end when the former star's body was found in a lake near his home in the Berlin suburb of Schmöckwitz on 18 June. Although no note was discovered, the coroner's verdict was suicide by drowning. But in the twenty years since his death, many have come out in support of a conspiracy - not least Everly and Reed's brother Dale, both of whom talk in terms of an assassination by the Stasi, KGB or CIA, though no evidence has ever been brought forward. Reed's mother - who passed away in 2001 - left money to her grandchildren specifically for investigative purposes.
His story has found a hight profile across the States in the years since his passing, and Dean Reed was set to become the subject of a Dreamworks movie in 2005 - with new fan Tom Hanks mooted to play the central role.
'Dean Reed could laugh. A man that laughs doesn't kill himself.'
Phil Everly, long-time friend of Dean Reed
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