Rod McKuen – The Songwriter Who Was Also a Poet

Rod McKuen was a writer and singer from California, who was at the peak of his career during the 60s and 70s. He was among the most famous poets and writers of the last century. Many of the books he wrote, went on to become international bestsellers. Rod was also a popular television figure with a show in which he would deliver his lyrics in a unique style.

Childhood days

Rod McKuen was born on 29th April 1933 in Oakland, California. His father had left his mother even before Rod came into this world. His mother had to work as a telephone operator and a waitress to feed and raise him. He had a very abusive childhood; his stepfather used to beat him severely under the influence of the alcohol. Rod sometimes would be left with injured or broken limbs and ribs. He was also sexually harassed by his relatives in his childhood.At the age of 11, Rod left his home to run away from everyday sufferings. Without much schooling, Rod had to work as a gravedigger, lumberjack, and cowboy. Later he worked as a disc jockey at a radio station in San Francisco, where he would play records. He also wrote the entertainment column for a newspaper and took part in plays as an actor. After that, Rod served with the US Army in the Korean war in Asia.

Early career and struggle

Rod McKuen Album “BeatSville” 1959

After the war, Rod came back to San Francisco and started working as a ballad and jazz singer with a band. It was during this time that Rod got interested in poetry and started reading a lot of poetry. He also worked as an actor for some time for Universal.In 1959, Rod moved to New York to look for more significant opportunities, but it was not easy to survive there initially. He even had to sell his blood to feed himself. Luckily, later he got a job of music writer with CBS and wrote a few hit songs. He was also a part of a band and would tour with them regularly. During one of these tours, Rod’s vocal cords got damaged affecting his voice forever.

The Peak of His Success

Rod became a popular figure in almost all of the entertainment fields by the end of the 60s. He was doing around 300 concerts per year during this period. Every book of his during this time was an out and out bestseller. He also won a Grammy in 1969 and got a nomination for Oscars in 1970. Rod McKuen sold over 100 million recordings in his career. Coming to the writing, he wrote more than 30 books in his career, which sold around 60 million copies worldwide.


Even though Rod was not a very political person, he was against the Vietnam war. He also raised his voice for the rights of children. He supported the LGBT community in their fight against society.