John Denver's golfing buddies wanted him to stay grounded Sunday, and so, in a way, did aviation officials, who suspended his pilot's license last year.

But Denver wanted to fly. And that's what he did. Right up until his experimental aircraft, called the Long EZ, plunged 500 feet from the sky into California's scenic Monterey Bay, killing the 53-year-old entertainer.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Denver had taken to the air, despite not having a valid license. His wings were clipped last year because of a denied medical clearance--CNN reported that aviation officials wanted proof that the country-folk crooner, arrested twice this decade for drunken driving, did not have an alcohol problem.

Crash investigators, meanwhile, warned that it could take up to six months to pinpoint a cause for the accident. Aiding the hunt Tuesday was the continued search for debris, which resulted in the plane's 200-pound engine being recovered from coastal waters. (Denver himself was badly dismembered in the crash. Emergency workers were still retrieving body parts Monday night.)

On Sunday, Denver resisted friends' urging to stay at a Pebble Beach, California, golf course and play another round, a worker at the course said. Five hours and 18 holes was apparently enough. Denver told buddies he had a new plane that he wanted to try out.

Denver bought the 10-year-old Long EZ just last Saturday, a National Transportation Safety Board official said. He flew it once that day--from Santa Maria, Calif., to nearby Monterey, where he owned a home.

Sunday was a day of practice landings and takeoffs for Denver. He performed a quick series of three touchdowns and takeoffs when he asked airport officials for permission to go full flight.

Prior to the crash, Denver apparently had trouble with the plane's transponder, a device that allows an aircraft to be tracked via radar. "Do you have it now?" Denver asked the air tower--his last words.

Denver is the latest music-industry player to have his life, and career, cut short by an aviation accident. Others in this star-crossed club include: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding, Ricky Nelson and Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper--who all died on the same flight in 1959.

A public memorial service for Denver, whose mountain of pure-sounding, melodic hits, including "Annie's Song" and "Country Roads" placed him among the biggest recording artists of the 1970s, is scheduled for Friday in Colorado, the adopted home state he immortalized in another trademark tune, "Rocky Mountain High." A private burial will follow.

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