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Dean Reed

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Dean Reed

Dean Reed in the 1960s
Background information
Birth nameDean Cyril Reed
Also known asMr. Simpatia, Red Elvis
BornSeptember 22, 1938
OriginDenver, Colorado, U.S.
DiedJune 13, 1986 (aged 47)
GenresPop, Country, Rock'n'Roll
OccupationsSinger, musician, actor, writer, director
InstrumentsVocals, guitar
Years active1958–1986
LabelsCapitol Records, Melodiya
Associated actsVíctor Jara

Dean Cyril Reed (September 22, 1938 – June 13, 1986) was an American actor, singer and songwriter who lived a great part of his adult life in South America and then in the German Democratic Republic.


Life and career

Dean Reed, Berlin, DDR, 19 November 1978.

Dean Reed was born in Denver, Colorado, and moved with his family many times, living in various cities in California and Utah, and later returning to Colorado. After a couple of years at the University of Colorado, Reed moved to California after realizing he had some talent as a musician, and recorded "Once Again" for Imperial Records as a one-off single to see if reaction to it would justify a full contract. No contract was offered by Imperial, but Reed subsequently signed a long-term recording contract with Capitol Records in 1958. Capitol groomed him to be a teen idol and he produced some modestly popular singles, including I Kissed a Queen, The Search, and Our Summer Romance. He also made guest appearances on family television programs such as Bachelor Father.

International fame

While Reed never achieved musical success in the U.S., Our Summer Romance proved to be so popular in South America that he stayed on in Argentina following a South American tour. His fame, and record sales there (as well as in Chile and Peru, where he also appeared on the major TV network) were certainly noteworthy.

While living in South America, Reed made numerous albums, movies, toured extensively, and even appeared on his own television program in Buenos Aires. In Chile, he developed a left-wing political philosophy, and began to speak out against oppression and poverty. He protested against nuclear weapons and US foreign policy, and performed shows for free in poor barrios and in prisons. Back in Buenos Aires, his politics eventually ran afoul of Argentine government policies due to the 1966 coup d'état and he was deported.

He lived in Rome for a time, acting in TV commercials and spaghetti western movies such as Adios Sabata, and touring Central and Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, where he was immensely popular.

Life in the Soviet bloc

In 1973, Reed chose to settle permanently in East Germany, where he continued to write, direct, and perform in films. Over the years he played in 20 films, produced 13 records, and gave concerts in 32 countries.

While committed to the politics of his adopted socialist home, he did not join the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) and preferred to define himself as a Marxist rather than a communist. Despite his opposition to many US policies, he professed his love of America until the end of his life, and his songs often reflected his fondness for his homeland. He never renounced his US citizenship and continued to file tax returns for the IRS.

However, in a 1986 television interview on CBS's 60 Minutes, he defended the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the building of the Berlin Wall (saying it was for "self defense"), and compared Ronald Reagan to Stalin, which angered many in the U.S., including family and friends. Following the interview, Reed received hate mail from the U.S. accusing him of being a traitor.

Death and legacy

Six weeks after his appearance on 60 Minutes Reed was found dead in Zeuthener Lake near his home in East Berlin. Though it was officially ruled an accidental drowning, his friends in Germany suspected that his death was a suicide and his family in the U.S. claimed that he had been murdered.

For a recent biography, Rock 'n' Roll Radical: The Life & Mysterious Death of Dean Reed, author Chuck Laszewski gained access to Reed's Stasi file, which contained a suicide note and an apparent apology written on the back of a movie script to the East German leader, SED General Secretary Erich Honecker. This was covered up by the GDR authorities, who feared that the discovery of his suicide would disparage their state.

The University of Colorado sponsors the Dean Reed Peace Prize, an annual essay contest held in Reed's memory.

Reed’s powerful life story influenced Grammy Award-winning writer and comedian Lewis Black and composer Rusty Magee to create "The Czar of Rock and Roll", a musical which chronicles Reed-like character Eugene Reeves rise from a Nebraska musician to a Soviet superstar. The book was penned by Black with music and lyrics by Magee. It was first produced in New York City at the West Bank Café Downstairs Theater Bar in 1989 and then at the Alley Theater in Houston in 1990. A concert version of the musical, directed by Evan Cabnet, was produced at Joe’s Pub in New York City in April 2009.

Tom Hanks has optioned a biography by Reggie Nadelson, titled Comrade Rockstar, published in the U.S. by Walker & Company in 2006.[1] Hanks is planning to produce a movie on Reed's life, which is also the subject of the documentaries American Rebel: The Dean Reed Story (1985),[2] Dean Reed – Glamour und Protest (1993)[3] and Der Rote Elvis (The Red Elvis) (2007).[4][5] A musical entitled "Comrade Rockstar", with music by Richard John and libretto by Julian Woolford is currently in development, using none of Reed's songs. One song from this musical, Smallville Colorado was sung by Carl Au when he won the Sondheim Student Singer of the Year at the Venue in London's Leicester Square. One hour's material from the show was presented in workshop by students from London's Arts Educational School in November 2007.

In 2004, the Russian Federation "Rossiya" television channel aired a documentary on Dean Reed, "Кто Вы, Мистер Рид?" ("Who Are You, Mister Reed?"), speculating on the possibilities of Reed having been a CIA, KGB or Stasi agent, but failing to present any concrete evidence to support any such theories.[6] It is known, however, that he did work for the international department of the East German intelligence service (Stasi), even if for a short time (1976–8)[7].


  1. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/09/books/review/09mall.html
  2. ^ American Rebel: The Dean Reed Story at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Dean Reed – Glamour und Protest at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Der Rote Elvis at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ The Red Elvis showing schedule
  6. ^ Кто Вы, Мистер Рид? Телеканал Россия, 2004, is available on DVD from http://www.videoserial.ru/dokument.html
  7. ^ Rock 'n' Roll Radical: The Life & Mysterious Death of Dean Reed (2005), by Chuck Laszewski

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