Dean Reed

Dean Cyril Reed (September 22, 1938 – June 13, 1986) was an American actor, singer and songwriter, director, and social activist who lived a great part of his adult life in South America and then in East Germany.

Dean Reed
Dean Reed in East Berlin, GDR,
November 19, 1978
Background information
Birth nameDean Cyril Reed
Also known asMr. Simpatia, Red Elvis
BornSeptember 22, 1938
OriginDenver, Colorado, US
DiedJune 13, 1986 (aged 47)
East Berlin, GDR
GenresPop, country, rock'n'roll
Occupation(s)Singer, musician, actor, writer, director
InstrumentsVocals, guitar
Years active1958–1986
LabelsCapitol Records, Melodiya, Amiga, Supraphon
Associated actsVíctor Jara

Early life and education

Dean Reed was born in Denver, Colorado.[1] though not on a chicken farm, according to his brother Dale R. Reed[2] His father was a high school math and history teacher, his mother a homemaker. He had two elder brothers, Dale and Vernon.[3] During the 1940s his family moved many times, living in various cities in California and Utah, and later returning to Colorado. He graduated from Wheat Ridge High School in 1956, where he was a star athlete on the track team. His father Cyril was pro military wanting his son to be educated at a military academy, was anti-marxist and "followed Barry Goldwater loyally".[4] He studied meteorology a couple of years at the University of Colorado earning money in bars singing Rock'n Roll and Country.


Reed moved to Hollywood, Los Angeles, California at the age of 19 and with his good looks won roles in TV.[1] He took acting classes with Warner Bros under Paton Price amongst others.[5] Price was a pacifist and taught him that art should be a mode of promoting one's beliefs.[4] After realizing he had some talent as a musician, he recorded "Once Again" for Imperial Records as a one-off single to see if reaction to it would justify a full contract. Imperial did not offer a contract, but in 1958 Reed signed a long-term recording contract with Capitol Records. Capitol groomed him to be a teen idol and he produced some modestly popular singles, including Annabelle, The Search, No Wonder, A Pair of Scissors, I Kissed a Queen, and Our Summer Romance. He also made guest appearances on family television programs such as Bachelor Father. In 1985 he said, "When I was in Hollywood it was a place of fear and exploitation, a prostitution camp, where very few people could keep their integrity. I'm not ready to come back and do Coca-Cola ads to make a living."[1]

International fame

Reed never achieved musical success in the U.S., where The Search became his only Billboard entry at #96. However, Our Summer Romance proved to be very popular in South America. In March 1962 Capitol sent him on a forty-day tour of Brazil, Chile, and Peru.[4] 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 free in poor neighborhoods and in prisons.

After learning Spanish he stayed on in Argentina[6] for approximately four years.

During his live concert performances, he was accompanied by the group ‘Los Dominantes’, a rock-band from Lanus, formed by Juan Luis Bhe ‘Ricky’ (keyboard), Carlos Reale ‘Charly’ (bass), Dardo Rivero (first guitar), Juan Chiarello (second guitar), and Jacinto Atencio (drums). Reed made numerous albums and movies, toured extensively, and even appeared on his own television programs in Buenos Aires, such as ‘’Sabados Continuados’’, with the appearance of Antonio Carrizo.

In July 1965, he went to Europe for the first time, performing before the World Peace Congress. He traveled frequently to Spain and Italy, and in 1966 he went on a singing tour through the Soviet Union.[4]

Back in Buenos Aires, his politics eventually ran foul of Argentine government policies after the 1966 military coup and he was deported.

From 1967 to 1969 Reed lived in Rome, acting in television commercials and spaghetti western movies such as Adiós, Sabata (1970).[4] He toured Central and Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, where he was immensely popular.[7]

In 1970, a week prior to the election of Chilean president Salvador Allende, he was arrested for washing a U.S. flag in front of Santiago's U.S. consulate. Pablo Neruda helped him to get out of jail.[4] In 1971, he re-entered Chile only to be arrested again for 21 days. His wife filed divorce at that point.[4]

Also in 1971, Reed wrote an "open letter" to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, criticizing him for having slandered the USSR.[8]

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. The majority of his songs during this period were uncertified covers of successful hits of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, The Beatles and others.[9] In 1978 he directed and starred in El Cantor (The Singer), a biopic about his friend Víctor Jara, the popular Chilean singer-songwriter murdered by the military after the 1973 coup d'état against President Salvador Allende.

While committed to the politics of his adopted communist home, he did not join the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). Despite his opposition to many US government and economic 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 Internal Revenue Service.

However, in a 1986 television interview on CBS's 60 Minutes, he defended the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the building of the Berlin Wall (saying it was for "self-defense"), and compared Reagan to Stalin, which angered many in the U.S.,[10] including Reed's family and friends. Following the interview, Reed received hate mail from the U.S. accusing him of being a traitor.[11]


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 his death was a suicide and his family in the U.S. claimed he had been murdered.

Reed's suicide note was later found on the back of a screenplay in his car. In it, Reed expressed his regret about his crumbling relationship with his third wife. He apologised to Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the SED, personally for his actions which could have resulted in a bad image for the GDR. The note was put into state files as classified information, which did not resurface until after German reunification. Eberhard Fensch, who was addressed in the note, later said, ‘The reason was to spare his wife's feelings. There was no other reason. The letter even contained a greeting to Erich Honecker. Why would we cover that up?’[12]

In 2004, Russia's Rossiya television channel aired a documentary on Dean Reed, entitled Кто Вы, мистер Рид? (‘’Who Are You, Mister Reed?’’), speculating on the possibilities of him having been a CIA, KGB or Stasi agent, but failing to present any concrete evidence to support any such theories.[13][14][15] Between 1976 and 1978, he worked for the Stasi’s international department according to a 2005 book.[16]

Personal life

Reed married three times. His first marriage was circa 1964 to an American woman, Patricia Hobbs, with whom he had a daughter, Ramona, born 1968.[17] Patricia left him in 1971, returned to the United States with their daughter, and divorced him. Reed married an East German woman, Wiebke Dorndeck (née Schmidt), in 1973, with whom he had a second daughter, Natasha, born 1975.[17][18][19] The couple divorced in 1978. In 1981, he married his third wife, East German actress Renate Blume, with whom he stayed until his death despite tensions and allegations that she was informing on him for the Stasi.[13][20]



The University of Colorado sponsors the Dean Reed Peace Prize, an annual essay contest held in Reed's memory.[21]

Media depictions

Reed's life is the subject of the documentary American Rebel: The Dean Reed Story (1985),[22]

Reed's life story influenced Grammy Award-winning writer and comedian Lewis Black and composer Rusty Magee to create the musical "The Czar of Rock and Roll".[23]:9–10 It chronicled the rise of a Reed-like character, Eugene Reeves, from Nebraska musician to Soviet superstar.[24] The musical 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. In April 2009 a concert version of the musical, directed by Evan Cabnet, was produced at Joe's Pub in New York City.[25]

In 1991 Tom Hanks optioned a biography by Reggie Nadelson, titled Comrade Rockstar, finally published in the U.S. by Walker & Company in 2006.[26] Nadelson had been inspired to write her book after seeing the 60 Minutes broadcast. Hanks planned to produce a movie on Reed's life. In 1993, Dean Reed – Glamour und Protest was released,[27] and in 2007 Der Rote Elvis (The Red Elvis) (2007).[28][29] and Gringo Rojo (2016)[30][31][32]

In 2001, English singer/songwriter Steve Bush published the song “Salome for Dean Reed” on the album Blossom Freak.


  1. Left star a stranger in his own land. The Guardian 19 November 1986
  2. Dean´s life July 4, 2008
  3. Christiane Al-Janabi. Dean Reed, zur Person: Filmspiegel 7/1985.
  4. Ariana Harner Values in Conflict The Singing Marxist. Colorado Heritage, Winter 1999 editor of the Society's "Colorado History Now" newspaper
  5. "DEFA". Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  6. "Filmschauspieler international" edited by Diana Bohn und Norbert Diener, n.d..
  7. Retrieved September 19, 2019. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. "Letter to Solzhenitsyn". 1971.
  9. Tajuplná smrt "Rudého Elvise": Kdo byl a co chtěl Dean Reed, Reflex, 15. 6. 2011
  10. Damphouse, Julia (May 12, 2017). "The Elvis of East Germany". Jacobin. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  11. Comrade Rockstar, Reggie Nadelson, Random House, 2010, pages 283-284
  12. BBC News – Film on Red Elvis
  13. Кто Вы, мистер Рид? Телеканал Россия, 2004
  14. " - This website is for sale! - videoserial Resources and Information". Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  15. "Кто Вы, Мистер Рид? (Документальный фильм о Дине Риде)". YouTube. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  16. Rock 'n' Roll Radical: The Life & Mysterious Death of Dean Reed (2005), by Chuck Laszewski, 261 pages, Publisher: Beaver's Pond Press, ISBN 1592981151
  17. "Dean Reed". Who's Dated Who?. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  18. "Dean Reed". Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  19. "Dean-Reed-Archiv Berlin". Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  20. Ariana Harner, "The singing Marxist," Colorado Heritage, Winter 1999, p.14-25.
  21. University of Colorado, Conference on World Affairs, Dean Reed Peace Prize essay contest Archived May 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, PDF file, downloaded March 5, 2010.
  22. American Rebel: The Dean Reed Story on IMDb
  23. Guide to the Rusty Magee papers 1966-2007 (bulk 1978-2002) Brown University Library Special Collections, 30pp, 2010
  24. Rosen and Saltzberg to star in one-night-only concert version of ‘’The Czar of Rock and Roll’’ 6th April at Joe's Pub,
  25. Hetrick, Adam (April 1, 2009). "Thorell, Rossmer and Ghebremichael Join Czar of Rock and Roll Concert". Playbill. Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  26. Rock Around the Bloc, Thomas Mallon, The New York Times, July 9, 2006
  27. Dean Reed – Glamour und Protest on IMDb
  28. Der Rote Elvis on IMDb
  29. The Red Elvis Archived September 12, 2017, at the Wayback Machine showing schedule
  30. "Gringo rojo Miguel Ángel Vidaurre (director)". Zona de Obras. March 17, 2016. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  31. ""Gringo rojo": La vida singular de Dean Reed llega a las salas « Diario y Radio U Chile". Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  32. "Documental "Gringo Rojo": Una respuesta a medias de un mito". El Mostrador. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
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