Rod McKuen was an American poet, singer-songwriter, and actor. He was one of the best-selling poets in the United States during the late 1960s. McKuen also produced a wide range of recordings, which included popular music, spoken word poetry, film soundtracks and classical music. He earned two Academy Award nominations and one Pulitzer nomination for his music compositions and wrote over 1,500 songs.
But what many don’t know is that McKuen NEVER divulged his sexual preferences and was a dedicated gay rights activist.
In 1977 McKuen very publicly opposed Anita Bryant’s 1977 anti-gay Save Our Children—Campaign dubbing Bryant with the name ‘Ginny Orangeseed’—and gave benefit performances in Miami and at multiple gay discos in New York and LA to raise money for gay rights groups. His 1977 album Slide… Easy In‘s cover depicts the arm of 1970’s gay porn star Bruno, his fist filled with Crisco, hovering above a can with the label “disco” on it.. The so-called “Crisco/Disco” album featured the song “Don’t Drink the Orange Juice,” released during the national “gaycot” of Florida orange juice in response to the Anita Bryant campaign.
In fact in the 1950s, McKuen held a leadership role in the San Francisco chapter of The Mattachine Society. And in later years engaged in AIDS activism for well over a decade, participating in numerous fundraisers in support of AIDS related charities.
McKuen himself though refused to identify as gay, straight, or bisexual, but once explained his sexuality saying, “I can’t imagine choosing one sex over the other, that’s just too limiting. I can’t even honestly say I have a preference. I’ve been attracted to men and I’ve been attracted to women. I have a 16-year-old son. You put a label on.” (This caused The Advocate, to give McKuen the dubious “Something You Do in the Dark” award for refusing to identify as gay.)
For over half a century McKuen proudly advocated for gay rights while refusing sexual labels for himself
McKuen lived in Beverly Hills, California with his partner Edward, whom he called his “brother”, and four cats . He died of respiratory arrest, a result of pneumonia, at a hospital in Beverly Hills, California, on January 29, 2015.