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Born and raised in Colorado, Dean Reed loved to sing and at an early age decided to become a musician. In 1958, Reed moved to California, where his good looks, charisma and serviceable voice won him a contract with Warner Brothers Records, but he only enjoyed marginal success in the music business.
In 1962, a single Reed cut for Capitol Records, Our Summer Romance, became a big hit in Chile, and he flew there on a promotional tour. While Reed became a major star in South America, he also embraced leftist politics, and became close friends with socialist leader Salvador Allende and activist folk singer Victor Jara.
Through Jara, Reed was invited to appear at a music festival in Moscow, and he quickly became a superstar in the Eastern Block. Settling in East Berlin, Reed released a steady stream of hit records in the GDR and the Soviet Union, where he was the first American rock performer to regularly appear in the Communist nations.
Despite his enthusiastic embrace of socialism, Reed never abandoned his American citizenship, and seeing himself as an activist for world peace, he dreamed of building a new career in the United States.
But even as the Cold War was grinding to a halt, Reed's Soviet connections made acceptance in America all but impossible, and he died in 1986 in East Berlin in a drowning accident, only 47 years old.
German filmmaker Leopold Gruen explores Dean Reed's life and legacy in the documentary Der Rote Elvis (aka The Red Elvis), which features extensive archival footage of Reed (including interviews, live performances and samples of his work as an actor) and interviews with those who knew him, including his ex-wives Wiebke Reed and Renate Blum, actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, former German Democratic Republic leader Egon Krenz, and American radio host Peter Broyles.
The film received its premiere at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival.