Passings: Rod McKuen, Poet and Songwriter (1933 – 2015)
Rod McKuen, the poet and songwriters whose credits include Jean, If You Go Away, Seasons in the Sun and Love's Been Good to Me, died on Thursday in Beverly Hills, CA from pneumonia. He was 81.
McKuen went out on his own at the age of 11, running from an abusive father, and worked in a number of jobs from railroad worker to stuntman. Throughout the time, he kept a journal where he would write his innermost thoughts often in the form of poems.
During the early-50's, McKuen worked in the news industry along with writing propaganda scripts during the Korean War. On the side, he would read his poetry at clubs in the San Francisco area alongside other greats of the beat generation.
Soon, he started setting some of his poetry to music and started performing the songs in area clubs like the Purple Onion. He signed to Decca Records and released a number of albums before the start of the 60's. McKuen also supported himself as an actor, singing with Lionel Hampton and composing and conducting music for television.
In the early 60's, McKuen moved to France and got to know another songwriter, Jacques Brel, who had found great popularity in his homeland. Rod began translating Brel's music to English, leading to such major hits as If You Go Away (originally Ne me quitte pas) and Seasons in the Sun (Le Moribond).
By the late-60's, Rod started publishing his poetry leading to a number of best sellers and recorded the best from the books on a series of albums including Lonesome Cities (1968) which won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.
Throughout, McKuen continued to write, record and perform live, earning him an NBC special in 1969. His songs were hits for the likes of Oliver (Jean from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for which he received an Academy Award nomination), Seasons in the Sun (Terry Jacks), I Think of You (Perry Como), The World I Used to Know (Jimmie Rodgers) and Love's Been Good to Me (Frank Sinatra).
McKuen retired from live performing in 1981 and battled clinical depression throughout the decade. He published the poetry book A Safe Place to Land in 2001 and was Executive President of the American Guild of Variety Artists for many years.
Over his career, McKuen released over 50 vocal albums, ten spoken word albums, fourteen albums of classical compositions, twelve live recordings, fifteen hits compilations and sixteen albums in collaboration with Anita Kerr and the San Sebastian Strings.