LOS ANGELES, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Rod McKuen, perhaps America's most successful poet although not the most critically acclaimed, has died at age 81 in Los Angeles.
In the 1960s and '70s, McKuen's books of poetry, which totaled 30 in his lifetime, were popular and brought enough wealth to live for years in a Beverly Hills, Calif., mansion. They were translated into 11 languages, and in 1968 alone sold over a million copies, in particular a collection titled Listen to the Warm. He also produced spoken-word recordings of his work, and recited on worldwide concert tours.
As a songwriter, he composed songs that became hits, including "Jean," which was performed in the 1969 film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." An English-language adaptation of a poem by his poetic influence, Jacques Brel, "Seasons in the Sun," sold 10 million copies.
His songs were recorded by Petula Clark, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra, who released an album, "A Man Alone: the Words and Music of McKuen," in 1969.
"There was a time not long ago when every enlightened suburban split-level home had its share of Rod McKuen. His mellow poetry was on the end table," a 2002 article in the San Francisco Chronicle said. The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture referred to McKuen as "the unofficial poet laureate of America."
He was also called the "King of Kitsch," the the Daily Telegraph noted. He received little critical acclaim for his work, although he suggested his comercial success turned critics against him, noting his reviews were uniformly positive until he became famous and widely read. McKuen began his poetry career in San Francisco in the 1950s, reading his work alongside Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and other respected practitioners of Beat poetry.
In his well-received autobiography, Finding My Father: One Man's Search for Identity, he of wrote of sexual abuse as a child and the pursuit for information about his biological father."
He died in a rehabilitation center Thursday of complications of pneumonia.