McKuen also performed as a folk singer and released his first album in the late 1950s. He wrote a newspaper column, and acted in movies like Rock, Pretty Baby and Summer Love. He moved first to New York, to create music for The CBS Workshop, then to Paris, where he met chanson singer Jacques Brel—a kindred spirit in McKuen’s brooding, ruminative view of romance. McKuen was the first to translate Brel’s works into English, beginning a practice that led to covers of Brel’s songs from artists like Scott Walker, David Bowie, and most directly Terry Jacks, whose hit “Seasons In The Sun” was based on McKuen’s version of “Le Moribond.”

McKuen’s own compositions were incredibly diverse, ranging from his early 1950s pop songs—including the novelty single “The Mummy” he co-wrote with Bob McFadden (which some of you may recognize from its cover by The Fall)—to folk and country tunes he recorded in his own strained, tentative rasp, like “Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name?” (but made more famous by The Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings), to sweeping concertos and chamber music he composed for classical orchestras, including the Pulitzer-nominated The City: A Suite For Narrator And Orchestra. Frank Sinatra commissioned an entire album of McKuen songs that was released as A Man Alone: The Words And Music Of Rod McKuen, featuring the popular “Love’s Been Good To Me.” Far more recently, Gene Ween (aka Aaron Freeman) recorded Marvelous Clouds, a collection of McKuen standards.

Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, McKuen was a familiar presence on television. In 1969, NBC gave him his own TV special, and he spent the next decade regularly turning up to sing on Ed Sullivan and The Johnny Cash Show, to chat with Dick Cavett, David Frost, Mike Douglas, and Johnny Carson, and even to play Hollywood Squares.

McKuen continued to perform regularly at sold-out shows worldwide until 1981, after which he announced that he’d been diagnosed with clinical depression. An inveterate loner, he lived by himself with his cats and what was said to be one of the world’s largest record collections, continuing to write and publish poems, with his last collection arriving in 2004. He also made the occasional voiceover appearance, turning up in Disney’s The Little Mermaid and (as himself) on The Critic.

McKuen’s work spans dozens of books and albums, thousands of songs, and countless impressions on a generation that—literary know-it-alls be damned—embraced his sentimentality with the same unapologetic wholeheartedness he did. Up until his death he continued to communicate with fans on his official website, where he offered them his daily affirmations. McKuen’s final “Thought For Today,” published on January 29: “No matter how great or small your ego, you are probably better than you think you are. Our natural instinct is to aspire to greatness.”