Rod McKuen, an American poet, songwriter, composer, and singer, died Thursday after suffering from pneumonia. Rodney Marvin McKuen was 81. Regrettably, Rod left our physical world, but he remains in our hearts and minds. He left us with fond memories, his writings, poetry, songs, and a wide range of recordings, to say the least.
Rod McKuen is best known for his spoken word poetry pop albums, like The Sea, The Earth, and The Sky, as well as the classic Academy Award nominated song “Jean” from the 1969 film, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
McKuen received two Oscar nominations; one for “Jean” and the other for the 1971 animated film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown. He won a Golden Globe for each film, as well.
McKuen also wrote Terry Jacks’ hit single “Seasons in the Sun,” and received a Grammy nomination for his collaborated work with Vince Guaraldi. McKuen also received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his classical work.
Rod McKuen was born in Oakland, California, on April 29, 1933. His mother and abusive, alcoholic stepfather raised Rod until he ran away from home at the age of 11. Rod took up a variety of jobs as he drifted along the California coastline.
In order to support himself, McKuen worked as a rodeo cowboy, railroad worker, lumberjack, radio disc jockey, surveyor, and ranch hand. He was also noted for always sending money back home to his mother.
McKuen was not formally educated. He relied on keeping a personal journal, where he eventually wrote his first song and poetry. Rod also worked as a propaganda scriptwriter and newspaper columnist during the Korean War in the 1950s.
McKuen frequented poetry clubs in San Francisco, reciting poetry alongside Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He later signed with Decca Records and released a number of pop albums.
Rod McKuen is credited for having written over 1,500 songs in his lifetime. McKuen is accounted for the sale of more than 100 million records for artists like Barbara Streisand, Johnny Cash, Andy Williams, Percy Faith, Waylon Jennings, Perry Como, Kingston Trio, London Philharmonic, and Frank Sinatra, to name a few.
Frank Sinatra recorded an album of Rod McKuen’s poems and songs in 1969, titled A Man Alone: The Words and Music of Rod McKuen.
Rod McKuen published 30 books of poetry, including Listen to the Warm, which sold a million copies. Variety reported McKuen’s 1968 Lonesome Cities album won a Best Spoken Word Grammy.
Rod McKuen died in Beverly Hills this Thursday. Without a doubt, this most sensitive and creative man will be missed. Through his writings and recordings, as well as our fond and grateful memories, Rod McKuen will remain alive in our hearts and minds.
[Image courtesy of Ralph Crane]