Star, July 8, 1986
Mystery death of American singer who became a superstar in Russia
He wanted to defect back to the West, says his daughter
By Judy Calixto
The death of an American singer who became a Soviet sensation is shrouded in mystery.
Dean Reed never made it big back home, but he achieved superstar status in the Soviet Union, earning the nickname the Johnny Cash of communism.
After his body was found in a lake near his East Berlin home, the death of the 47-year-old singer took on an air of intrigue when his daughter tearfully revealed he was on the brink of coming home to America.
"He missed. it He loved America," says 18-year-old Ramona Reed, who was born in California. "I don't think anyone knew he was leaving. He didn't want to spend his life there."
Ramona reveals that a reunion of friends, at a Denver-film festival last fall touched off waves of homesickness in her father.
"Denver was his hometown - he saw his old roommates, his old girlfriends," Ramona recalls. "He was crying, 'I'm sorry. I love Colorado, I love America. I don't agree with the politics, but I will come back.'
"It was if he had so much guilt about leaving. He never actually said that he felt it, but when I looked into his eyes, it was like he wanted to say, 'Why did I move?'"
Reed, who had been living behind the Iron Curtain since 1965, was one of the Eastern Bloc's biggest singing stars. Having achieved popularity in South America, the singer-actor (he made more than 12 spaghetti westerns) roved the world performing.
At the time, he was a fervent opponent of the Vietnam war, and soon communists began hailing him as a folk hero. He married East German actress Renate Blume, and lived in a luxurious East Berlin villa.
"My father had a problem," says Ramona, who spent a month last summer with her father in Germany and Moscow, the longest visit she had ever had with him.
"He was torn between the West and the East. He wanted the West but the East wanted him. His wife didn't want to come over here, and before he left Denver he was in tears. He said, 'She wants me to say I hate America. But I have to tell her I adore it.'
"I've always wanted him to come back," adds Ramona. "And he said that he would."
Although practically unknown in the U.S., Reed was so popular in the Soviet Union that his concerts, all guaranteed sell-outs, were never announced in advance.
Scalpers would sell tickets at 10 times their price and his records sold millions in Eastern Bloc countries, even though he earned a mere $600 per recording.
Reed never gave up his American citizenship (nor did he report income earned to the IRS), but he was treated like a top government official in East Germany.
"He had a huge two-story house right on a lake," says Ramona. "What blew me away was that he only paid $32 a month in rent. It wasn't up to Beverly Hills celebrity standards, but he wouldn't have wanted that anyway. He had a boat, two Mercedes and a motorcycle. And there was caviar. All you ate was caviar."
Ramona remembers being mobbed by fans in Moscow, meeting the Soviet elite, including the cosmonauts and sitting near Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. "I knew, my father was famous, but I had no idea how famous," she says. "It was amazing. He was like Paul McCartney. You just have no idea how famous he was until you yourself are trampled."
Critics claimed Reed swallowed the Kremlin's anti-American ideology hook, line and sinker since he couldn't find fame at home in the U.S.
But last year, Reed insisted: "I'm a puppet of nobody and a member of no political party."
Reed's ex-wife, Patricia Reed Wilson, says: "He believed in all people. He was not a spy for either side. He was for peace. He was a child of the Sixties."
The key to Reed's Iron Curtain success was his casual style (he usually sang in English, although he spoke broken Russian), and his folksy pop tunes often brought fans to tears. One chartbuster was Nobody Knows Me Back in My Hometown.
With the cause of Reed's death still a mystery (he was presumed to have died from drowning or a heart attack), rumors of foul play remain unconfirmed. The Soviet news agency Tass has tersely explained he died "tragically in an accident."
Ramona sadly recalls: "We laughed about the little things he missed, like peanut butter, potato chips and hot dogs. I told him that I was a big Marilyn Monroe fan, and asked him if he could write a song about her romance with Joe DiMaggio.
"For my 18th birthday, he sent me a tape, and sure enough, there was a song about Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, even though he wrote that nobody there knew who they were.
"I don't ask why God took him away because my father lived eight lifetimes. He did more than any man I know. He was remarkable."
When sorrows come, they come not as single spies but in battalions. - William Shakespeare