Rod McKuen.

Singer, songwriter and poet

Born: Born: April 29, 1933

Died: January 29, 2015.

Rod McKuen, who has died aged 81, was a poet, singer and songwriter whom many critics loved to hate. Often dubbed "the king of kitsch," he was also once praised as "the unofficial poet laureate of America." He wrote for some of the greatest performers of the 20th century including Sinatra and Streisand, as well as translating the works of the French-singing Belgian genius Jacques Brel. McKuen's role in Brel's global success was crucial.

Most critics scoffed at McKuen's poems and song lyrics in the 1950s, but he believed that rhyme was not the essence of poetry. He outwrote his contemporary beat poets, churning out 30 anthologies of verse published in 11 languages and shifting 65 million copies, more than Ginsberg or Kerouac put together. Not bad for a San Francisco Bay kid who ran away from his drunken stepfather of Scots origin when he was 11.

For reasons unknown, Brel took to the gravelly-voiced kid McKuen who was wandering the streets of Paris. He entrusted the American with writing an English translation of one of his greatest songs, Le Moribond.

To be perfectly honest, McKuen's English version of Brel's despairing farewell song was extreme kitsch but it did, ironically, bring Brel to an appreciative English-language audience. Predicting his death (he died aged 49), Brel famously sang, showering the front row of his audience with his renowned spit and sweat from pure passion:

"Je veux qu'on rie, je veux qu'on danse

Je veux qu'on s'amusent commes des fous ...

Quand c'est qu'on me mettra dans le trou."

Basically, Brel was telling his friends to get drunk and dance round his grave when they tossed him in it. McKuen's lryics were softer:

"We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun

But the stars that we reached were just starfish on the beach."

Kitsch or not, the English version became a number hit for Canadian singer Terry Jacks, who followed it with another McKuen translation of perhaps Brel's best-known song Ne Me Q'uitte Pas (If you go away). Jacks's version was forgettable but numerous other artists eventually did it justice in Engish, including Sinatra, Neil Diamond, and Madonna.

While many critics scoffed, McKuen plied his trade. He wrote 1,500 songs and, interspersing them with poems which left his audiences euphoric or just " spaced-out," he packed out many a theatre. In the early 1970s, a critic wrote "Rod McKuen is loved and loathed in equal measure."

Rodney Marvin Michel James McKuen was born in Oakland, California, across the bay from San Francisco, on April 29, 1933. He was born in a salvation army hostel, largely because of his stepfather's drunken behaviour and abuse. "I had the advantage of being born a bastard," he once said, "it takes some people all their lives to become one."

He fled the hostel when he was 11, finding work as a ranch hand, digging ditches and chopping down trees, all of it fuelling his poetry. As a late-night DJ, he stuck in some of his poems in between records.

After his national service in Korea in he early 1950s, he wrote the pacifist song "soldiers who want to be heroes number practically zero, but there are millions who want to be civilians." He also wrote Doesn't Anyone Know my Name, a 1968 hit for Vince Hill, and a book of musings titled Listen to the Warm (1967) which sold over a million copies. He was nominated for an Oscar for his song Jean for the memorable film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and another nomination for the song A Boy Called Charlie Brown for the 1970 Peanuts movie.

Such was his fame that McKuen persuaded Sinatra to record an album of McKuen poems and songs including the successful Love's Been Good to Me, movingly covered by Johnny Cash shortly before he died. A BBC series ensued, The Rod McKuen Show, in which his co-star was an old English sheepdog called Mr Kelly.

Mr McKuen diedafter suffering from pneumonia. He was unmarried.