The New European: All shook up – the forgotten story of the Cold War’s Red Elvis

From all-American star to the Eastern bloc’s greatest celebrity, Dean Reed’s was a truly extraordinary career. Here, Sophia Deboick recounts his life and death, a tragic tale of celebrity and history

Impossibly snake-hipped, with a Hollywood smile and ice-blue eyes, Dean Reed looked every inch the all-American hero. Yet he became the biggest star the Communist east ever saw.

Virtually unknown in the West today, in the 60s and 70s the Colorado-born singer and actor – of limited talent but huge charisma – was known as the ‘Red Elvis’ and enjoyed a virtual monopoly on American rock n roll and country music behind the Iron Curtain.

But his uncomplicated charm and simple songs belied the fact that he was an agitator and player in the world’s changing political fortunes, denounced as a traitor in the US just as he was adored in the east, even as he saw himself as a peace campaigner who tried to unify through music and film. Reed was an enigma – was he a genuine revolutionary, motivated by compassion for the poor and dispossessed? Or an attention-seeker who admitted fame was a drug and allowed himself to be used as a mouthpiece for oppressive regimes? His is a story of the meeting of cultures, political isolation and the personal toll of living in a divided Europe…

The New European, 24 February 2017, pp. 30-31.

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