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People Top 5
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PEOPLE Top 5 are the most-viewed stories on the site over the past three days, updated every 60 minutes
- January 12, 1976
- Vol. 5
- No. 1
Searching for a Father, but Where?—It Isn't a New Rod McKuen Poem, It's His Life
As a vocalist, versemaker, and unblushing soft-core sentimentalist, froggy-voiced Rod McKuen has plucked many a susceptible heartstring. Twenty-three volumes of his works have sold more than 16.4 million copies in hardcover and paperback, making him the best-selling living poet in the world. McKuen's 2,200 songs of longing and loneliness, some written in collaboration with Jacques Brel and others, have sold 150 million records worldwide and established his own record label, Stanyan.
Despite the bonanza, McKuen's loneliness was more than a pose. A year and a half ago, he experienced a physical and mental collapse, lost 26 pounds in three weeks, and found himself contemplating suicide. "I felt I had nothing to live for," he recalls. "I was reaching millions of people, but I would have loved to entertain for just one." Today, though still a bachelor at 42, McKuen claims he has recovered from his emotional crisis. "I've discovered that it's important not to lie to yourself," he explains, "and in my old age I'm taking more chances, like going ballooning. I used to be afraid of heights."
McKuen has also vowed to locate his father, missing since 1933 when he walked out on McKuen's unmarried mother before or just after his son was born in an Oakland, Calif. Salvation Army hospital. McKuen hired Neilson & Green, a San Francisco detective agency, to begin a search, then had an ad (above) placed in three Bay Area newspapers and another in Reno, Nev.
Because of the publicity his quest has attracted, McKuen's investigators have reported 60 replies and "three very active leads"—in Northern California, New York City and a little town in Illinois. Detectives, however, say the end of the search could be "a day away or a lifetime away," and the elder McKuen, if he is still alive, is already 69. One of the three prime candidates, in fact, died last spring. "I hope it doesn't turn out to be him," says McKuen. "I'd be brokenhearted to have come that close." His sole purpose in seeking his father (McKuen's mother died in 1971) is to "find him and tell him everything is okay," McKuen explains. "I don't want anything from him, but maybe he needs something from me. And I might just find brothers and sisters and a new stepmother."
Ironically, McKuen himself is the father of an illegitimate son, Jean-Marc, 15, now living in the south of France, whom McKuen says he sees several weeks each year. "I wasn't in love with his mother," says McKuen. "All we had in common was sex. I knew what it meant to be a bastard, but I figured that was better for him than growing up in a loveless marriage." Despite occasional romances—the most recent with an Australian he met on the concert circuit last summer—McKuen lives alone in his 28-room Spanish-style mansion in Beverly Hills, which he shares with a menagerie of English sheepdogs and cats. Although he hints he may soon make use of a modern marriage ceremony he wrote this year, there are closets in his life still unopened. With two new volumes of poetry just released, along with his 44th solo record album, Sleep Warm, McKuen has canceled 100 concerts in 1976 to concentrate on his first opera, and to start work on a Bicentennial book based on interviews with ordinary Americans. He says he harbors a yen to teach children someday, but has no interest in tutoring poets. "I get 100 manuscripts a week and I don't read any of them," he declares. "I'm not capable of judging someone else's poetry. My poetry is me, and I don't believe in competition except with myself."
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