For the first time, Cassandra Delaney Denver tells what really went wrong with her fairytale marriage to superstar John. (This is apparently the sixth first time Cassy has told a story similar to this)
The fairytale began at the Sebel Town House in Sydney in 1985. Country music star John Denver walked into the bar of the hotel after a night out with friends. Immediately, he was captivated by the sight and sound of the beautiful singer on stage, Australian Cassandra Delaney. A passionate romance began, and their love was sealed in August 1988 in a mountain-top wedding above Aspen, Colorado, in the US.
"When I first met John, I really did think I was the luckiest girl in the world," recalls Cassandra, known as Cassy. In May 1989, their "miracle" baby, Jesse, was born - after John had been told he was sterile and would never father a child. But, in the years that followed this idyllic beginning, things started to go horribly wrong.
This is the first time, Cassy, 33, has revealed the truth about John Denver, 52, and their troubled marriage, which ended acrimoniously after six years. They now are divorced and she is no longer willing to "cover up" what John is like to "protect his image". She tells of the bullying, threats, jealousy and heavy drinking that destroyed them, and of the dramatic $3.3 million custody fight for their child. She brands him a "control freak".
Ironically, we arrange our meeting at the Sebel. Cassy and Jesse have been in Australia since late last year, spending time with Cassy's mother, Lorraine, and meeting old friends. Today, Larraine is baby-sitting her grand-daughter. Super-slim Cassy chats animatedly and happily about things in general, while munching on toast and Vegemite. But an almost-visible cloud comes over her when she talks about John. She first explains why she feels compelled to speak out. "It's important to keep some family dignity and not gossip - especially when there's a child involved. But when someone such as John is being constantly abusive and threatening, you just have to say enough is enough."
Cassy wistfully relives her early days with John: "I was falling in love with a spiritual man who was on the same path as me ... someone who had a good heart. We had some good years together, but I should have seen the signs of how he treated everyone else. John had no friends and constantly upset his staff. Most of his secretaries were often in tears and constantly leaving," she says. "He plays at being the character John Denver, but there's another person there, John Henry Deutschendorf [his real name], and that's who John always was and really is." As the relationship fell apart, Cassy had no idea what to do. She felt it would be disloyal to confide in anybody about their problems, so she remained silent. "I went into shock and I think I was in denial for a long time," she says. "I wanted to make it work and I didn't want anybody to know that I felt I'd made a mistake. And, like other women, I thought I could change my man through love and compassion. "It took me a long time finally to admit that this was abuse and it wasn't right, and that I actually deserved to be loved unconditionally."
Like many others, Cassy read in John's 1994 autobiography, Take Me Home, of the time he went berserk on his Aspen property. He was married to his first wife, Annie, at the time and "before I knew it my hands were around her throat," he confessed. Then he took a chainsaw to their furniture, lopping bits off. John's confessions raised alarmed responses from women's rights groups around the US. The crunch in Cassy and John's marriage came shortly after Jesse was born. Cassy wanted to stay at home with their baby; John wanted a full-time nanny to care for her, so Cassy could continue touring with him. "I took care of him on the road," she says. "When Jesse came along, he lost control of me and saw me sharing my love with her. I think when a man and woman have a child - if the man is not mature enough, and that's crazy because John's over 50 - the relationship can fall apart. John became jealous. Nothing I did was right."
John demanded a divorce, without any prior discussion. "He just made up his mind one day and said, "I want a divorce and I don't want you in my house". She and Jesse moved into the guest house. "Once he'd decided that it didn't work for him anymore, he could not go back on that decision because his ego took over. He didn't have the compassion to say, "We need to find a way to make this work". He wasn't willing to do that, which was extremely disappointing, because I wanted to make it work." Next, he applied for a restraining order to be put on Cassy, alleging she was a physical threat. As the sheriff was on the way to serve the papers, Cassy, Jesse and Lorraine, who was in Aspen to
support her daughter, were going to a mountain hideout. "He demanded that I get a lawyer and I had no other choice, because he threatened he was going to take Jesse away from me, and watch me "walk away and crumble to the ground ... with nothing". Those were his words and he threatened us with them constantly. He's a very, very bitter man. And an angry man."
After a long legal battle, with court costs exceeding $3.3 million, Cassy was awarded primary custody of Jesse. Since everything - including credit cards - were in John's name, she had to borrow from a friend to pay her court costs. "It's terrifying to have some vindictive bully make that threat and actually get close to achieving it, because of their money and power. It was a hard fight, but definitely a worthwhile one," she says. The original terms of the custody were that Cassy must live in the US and John was able to see Jesse whenever he wished, and vice versa. "She sees him whenever she wants to - not that he's available all the time. He hasn't been available for her very much at all.
"They mostly speak on the phone, when he has a week off, he doesn't take any consideration of her schooling of her schedule - he just wants her then and that's all there is to it. Otherwise, he blows up and makes things very difficult." But Jesse - a gorgeous six-year-old who is in Year One at school in Los Angeles, where she and her mum now live - is a happy child, says Cassy. "We have a great life together and she loves going to school. But John's never really been in her life because we separated when she was just a baby, so she's not used to having him around, anyway. "When he calls, he says, "Hi, this is John Denver." She thinks of her daddy as John Denver and he's a singer and she sees him every now and then."
Looking back on their time together, Cassy recalls John's nightly drinking sessions. "If you're getting drunk every night, there's got to be a problem." Cassy feels the love she lavished on John masked his true personality. "I'm the type of person that, if I love someone, I want to be joined to their life. I did that to John for many years, so I think that subdued who he really was. I think he got tired of playing the game and it snapped in him and he just turned back into who he really is." Cassy believes that John first loved her strong will, but it was that - and her refusal to bow to his demands - which eventually led to his decision to divorce her. "I don't think that anybody's ever really said "no" to John," she says. "He became a star - a big star - quite early on, before he really matured as a man. He's very intimidating. Everybody walks on eggshells around him. But he didn't intimidate me, and I think that's what he saw in me, and what he loved in me. I was able to be myself and I wasn't overawed by him."
Then, she relates a frightening incident that happened on Christmas Day 1992, when John arrived to pick up Jesse to take her back to his ranch. Cassy and Jesse had been skiing with friends and were five minutes late getting home. "John was there and enraged, and grabbed Jesse out of my arms and threw her in his Porsche. She automatically started crying. I could tell that he was drunk. I could smell it on him and I just knew he was, anyway. I ran around to the car and got Jesse out and ran to the house and locked the door. I called the police because he was outside just going ballistic and out of control." Cassy says John refused to put Jesse's seatbelt on. "He would never put Jesse in a seatbelt and insisted that, when she was with him, he could do whatever he wanted." The police arrived and drove Jesse to John's property.
Today, Cassy keeps herself going with motherhood and her own music. She's working on an album which should be released later this year. "Motherhood is my best role and that takes up a lot of my time - and happily so. I love being a mother." Although Cassy and Jesse have started a new life, Cassy says John's attempts to control her go on.
Recently, he started to pay less maintenance for Jesse. "He's decided that he's going to cut the child support - which is the only maintenance that I accepted from him - back to a certain amount, because he sees that I'm happy and I'm getting on in my career and things are starting to look good for us." So it's back to the courts - Delaney versus Denver, once again. "I'm going to make it right, whether that's getting it back to how it was or changing it. I'm going to make it right for Jesse and me, so we can get on with our lives." "He has been an incredible bully. His behaviour has been unforgivable. He's tried everything he can do to destroy us, as a family." But, Cassy says, "I've had enough
now. I'm not going to sit back and take it anymore."