The Age (Melbourne) 09.08.1988
DEAN REED was found dead in a lake near East Berlin two years ago. The official verdict of accidental drowning is still disputed by friends and relatives although calls for an ioquiry have met with silence on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Almost unknown in his own country, the US-born Reed was a pop star in South and Central America, and more recently in Eastern Bloc nations, where he also starred in and directed films. Director Will Roberts completed 'American Rebel' in 1985, a year before the singer's death. The documentary includes concert and TV footage, anchored by an interview with Roberts at Reed's East Berlin home, where he lived with his actress wife Renate Blume and their son.
Reed grew up in Colorado, where he was a champion athlete and horseman. He quit university for Hollywood and landed a recording contract. He was never more than an average country-folk singer but one song, 'Our Summer Romance', became a South American hit in 1959 and Reed soon headed south. His bleached blond good looks endeared him to female fans south of the border, more popular than Elvis Presley, and he lived there until 1966.
Reed's socialist beliefs hardened in the South American political climate and his left-wing activities in Argentina led to expulsion. He left for Moscow, helped pioneer rock'n'roll in the USSR and made several Italian "spaghetti westerns" but it was his image as a cowboy revolutionary in stetson and boots that earned him a huge following as a singer inside the Soviet bloc.
He was actively involved in socialist causes, including Vietnam and Lebanon. One of the more incongruous scenes shows Reed singing 'Ghost Riders In The Sky' to the PLO's Yasser Arafat; in another he sings 'Tutti Frutti' on Siberian TV. On one of his few US visits, in 1978, he was jailed after a Minnesota demonstration against high-voltage lines. Chile expelled him in 1983 for singing banned songs to students and miners.
He spent his last years based in East Germany, where he made the hit film comedy 'Sing, Cowboy, sing". Ironically, at the height of his popularity in the East, Reed still held a US passport although to Washington he was a non-person. If his idealism appears naive and his music curiously hybrid, there is no doubting his courage.
A lifetime friend, Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, puts it better: "Dean lives his politics." Was that how he died?