California-born writer, singer, and troubadour Rodney Marvin McKuen, simply known as “Rod” to millions of fans, died of pneumonia January 29 at a rehabilitation center in Beverly Hills, California. He was 81 years old.
McKuen was a popular poet and singer in the 1960s and 1970s selling millions of albums and books. His more than 30 books became instant best sellers. Some of the 1,500 songs he wrote were featured in movies and recorded by a varied collection of famous artists. He won a Grammy Award in 1969 for one of his recordings and was nominated for an Academy Award for a song he wrote that was featured in a hit movie.
Being a best-selling poet, he once said, targeted him for ridicule by many critics. “The most unforgivable sin in the world is to be a best-selling poet,” he explained. Though receiving much acclaim early in his career, as his success grew, so it seems did some critics’ vilification.
But to me, he was a blessing. During high school and college, his work was a source of comfort and inspiration as I tried to find my way in the world. Through his words, simple though they may be, he seemed to understand my hurts and fears and failings and struggles. My introspection mirrored his. My search for meaning in life, for my place, for love and understanding, seemed the same as his. There were many times when I felt alone, and from his words, I drew comfort.
Rest in peace, old friend. Critics come and go and fade into obscurity, but your words live on in the hearts of many. The fact that you were responsible for bringing a new generation to love poetry should be enough to satisfy any critic.