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Tahoe was high on Denver’s list

Sally J. Taylor

For many years, John Denver sang regularly on a South Shore stage, swooshed down the area’s ski slopes and crept into Lake Tahoe hearts.

“He’ll be missed by the Heavenly family for sure,” Stan Hansen, Heavenly Ski Resort’s vice president of planning and government affairs, said Monday following the news of Denver’s plane crash off the Monterey Peninsula.

Hansen remembered the singer as a “real” person who had a “zest for life” and commitment to the environment.



Denver first appeared on a South Shore stage in 1975 at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, playing as a tag team with Frank Sinatra. Denver strummed his guitar with songs of hope and peace during the dinner shows that week, while Sinatra crooned during the late show.

In 1978, Denver began hosting the Denver Celebrity Ski Classic at Heavenly, where Hansen and the resort’s former owners, the Killebrew family, became friends with the singer and outdoor enthusiast.



Denver annually performed at Harrah’s and hosted the ski classic through 1987.

“He always used to pack the room out,” said John Packer, Harrah’s director of communications.

Denver won the hearts of Harrah’s employees by performing a couple late-late shows just for the casino’s employees, Packer said.

Harrah’s founder, Bill Harrah was also fond of John Denver and his music. When Harrah died in 1978, Denver performed at his funeral.

The Denver Celebrity Ski Classic, one of the first of its kind in the ski industry, Hansen said, attracted dozens of celebrities each year to Heavenly and exposed many new people to the sport.

Despite the hectic pace of hosting the ski classic and performing at Harrah’s, Denver found time to sneak away with friends to fish at Pyramid Lake.

“His exuberance and love for the outdoors goes along with all that,” Hansen said. “He wanted to see environmental issues in the forefront.”

Following the Presidential Forum on Lake Tahoe in July, Denver called Heavenly to say how proud he was of the ski industry for participating in that event, Hansen said.

Denver was also known at Tahoe for taking time for others. He participated in many Heavenly events including Special Olympics and the ski resorts 40th Anniversary celebration.

At Harrah’s, he once stood in for an ailing Nancy Sinatra.

His band had flown home, Hansen said, but he performed solo with his guitar.

“It was the best performance he ever gave,” Hansen said. “He was just being himself.”


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