St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch 07.11.1985
East Bloc star Dean Reed's life captured in 'Rebel'
By Mordecai Specktor
Who is the best-known American in the Soviet Union? According to numerous press accounts, the distinction goes to the singer and film star Dean Reed, a 47-year-old Colorado native.
Since leaving the United States 20 years ago, Reed has become "a golden East Bloc superstar, the Johnny Cash of communism," according to the New York Times, but he is virtually unknown in his homeland.
Reed, who is making one of his infrequent U.S. visits, is the subject of a new documentary film, "American Rebel," directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Will Roberts. The film biography of the expatriate singer will be shown at 7 tonight at Willey Hall on the Univesity of Minnesota's West Bank. Both Reed, who will perform some of his songs, and Roberts will be present in a benefit for the Honeywell Project, the Minneapolis-based disarmament group.
Reed's journey t fame in the East began in the 1950s in the American West. After working as a cowboy on a Colorado dude ranch and attending the Univesity of Colorado for two years, Reed took off for Hollywood. He recorded for Capitol from 1958 to 1961, and one of his songs, "Our Summer Romance," became a pop hit in South America in 1961.
"I was sent on a concert tour of South America, where I was No. 1 on the charts ahead of Elvis Presley," Reed recalled in an interview from Los Angeles. But in Latin America, the singer confronted the reality of widespread poverty, and his outlook changed. "I think, unless you're blind, one has to change, and I did," he said.
Reed lived in South America for five years - "because of professional reasons, not because of political reasons" - but left his home in Argentina after a military coup in 1966. His fame as a protest singer had made him a likely target for persecution, so Reed journeyed to Italy.
"From 1967 to '70, I starred in eight Italian Westerns," Reed remarked. "In 1970, I returned to Chile, because President (Salvador) Allende was a friend of mine, and he invited me to come back. I worked for free for this new experiment in Chile, which was trying to sove the social problems of Chile without a revolution, and I believed in this experiment very much."
East Berlin has been home for Reed since 1973. "I've starred in 18 films. ... I've made 12 LPs. I've given concerts in 32 countries," said Reed, ticking off a thumbnail biography.
Reed has been awarded the Lenin Prize - the Eastern Bloc's equivalent of the Nobel Prize - by the Soviet Kommsomol (he's the only American recipient), and according to his press biography has been awarded peace prizes from the governments of the German Democratic Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Soviet Union.
Reed's name may ring a few more bells in the United States since ABC News aired a feature about the expatriate artist last month. And a few weeks ago in Denver, Reed was thrown off a radio talk show, the fiasco later reported in the newspapers.
Despite the Denver controversy, Reed said he was "happy to be back home. I have very often homesickness, to be able to speak my own language - which you probably notice I'm forgetting how to speak after 25 years. I have been speaking Spanish, Italian and German."
The unavailability of his records in the United States bothers Reed, who would like to be recognized here, but on his own terms. "I would like to be able to work in my home country. I would like to be creative and productive, but keeping my ideals and my integrity," he said.
"I'm not willing after being 25 years - two words, which I don't like, being a 'super star' - being respected, I would say, and loved by millions of people, I'm not ready to come back to this country to do Coca-Cola commercials."
Specktor is a Twin City free-lance writer