Rod McKuen, the husky-voiced “King of Kitsch” whose avalanche of music, verse and spoken-word recordings in the 1960s and ’70s overwhelmed critical mockery and made him an Oscar-nominated songwriter and one of the best-selling poets in history, has died. He was 81.
McKuen died Thursday morning at a rehabilitation center in Beverly Hills, California, where he had been treated for pneumonia and had been ill for several weeks and was unable to digest food, his half-brother Edward McKuen Habib said.
Until his sabbatical in 1981, McKuen was an astonishingly successful and prolific force in popular culture, turning out hundreds of songs, poems and records. Sentimental, earnest and unashamed, he conjured a New Age spirit world that captivated those who didn’t ordinarily like “poetry” and those who craved relief from the war, assassinations and riots of the time.
His best-known songs, some written with the Belgian composer Jacques Brel, include “Birthday Boy,” “A Man Alone,” “If You Go Away” and “Seasons In the Sun,” a chart-topper in 1974 for Terry Jacks. He was nominated for Oscars for “Jean” from “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” and for “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” the title track from the beloved Peanuts movie.