Rod Lauren Poster

Biography

Rod Lauren was born Roger Lawrence Strunk in Fresno, California, on March 20, 1940. He moved with his parents to Tracy, California, when he was three. Father Larry Strunk was a schoolteacher who subsequently found work as a switchman for the Southern Pacific Railroad; his mother was also a teacher and a church organist. While attending Tracy High School, Roger appeared in school plays and played the trombone in the high school band. Graduating in 1957, he began singing in local clubs in Tracy.

A recording executive was taken by his easy vocal style that differed significantly from the popular rock 'n' roll genre. The exec gambled with it, offered the teen an audition and Roger ended up winning an RCA recording contract. He took on the professional name of Rod Lauren. The fledgling singer appeared on both Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark's variety showcases between 1959 and 1960 and earned a mild hit along the way (#31 on the Billboard chart) with "If I Had a Girl" in 1960. However, with the British invasion, his singing career fell away. Fortunately, Rod had a dark, sulky, greaser-type appeal that recalled the rebel in Fabian and, with that look, he started to find acting jobs on TV. He also earned singing work in Vegas and Southern California lounge clubs on the sly.

In 1963 alone Rod made six films, all of them low-budget in nature but a couple that found cult infamy. In the cheapjack shocker Terrified (1963) he is one of a group of college students trapped in a ghost town with a masked psychopathic killer. In Black Zoo (1963) it is veteran actor Michael Gough who imperils Lauren's life as a demented animal owner who triggers his caged pets to attack. The third horror flick is his best known, The Crawling Hand (1963), in which the hand of a deceased astronaut comes to life and wreaks havoc. Other genres mixed in were party flicks such as The Young Swingers (1963) and the mediocre oaters The Gun Hawk (1963) and Law of the Lawless (1964).

Following isolated appearances on Gomer Pyle: USMC (1964) and Combat! (1962), Lauren's film career pretty much dissolved. His last film appearance was in director John Derek's Childish Things (1969) (aka "The Confessions of Tom Harris"), which starred Derek's then-wife Linda Evans. The film was made in 1966 but not released until three years later.

In 1964 Lauren went to the Philippines for the filming of Once Before I Die (1966), and while there met Nida Blanca, a then-rising Filipino film star. He shuttled back and forth between the Philippines and Southern California for over a decade before finally marrying Ms. Blanca in 1979. He then took permanent residence in Manila. Ms. Blanca was a star in the Philippines comparable to Doris Day or Debbie Reynolds. Rod functioned as his wife's escort as his own career dissipated.

His last years were like a bad horror story. On November 6, 2001, wife Nida was viciously stabbed to death in a parking garage. In November of 2003 Rod (who had long returned to his real name of Roger Strunk) was to be charged with her murder after authorities claimed he hired an assassin to kill his wife who had threatened to divorce and disinherit him. In an example of the dysfunctional Manila justice system, authorities allowed Rod to return to the U.S. before charges could be filed against him. Claiming his mother, who lived back in Tracy, California, was dying of cancer and he needed to be with her, he managed to resist extradition and resettled in Tracy.

The former actor found employment as a camera operator for the city of Tracy's public-access station, Channel 26. The pressures of the ongoing investigation, however, finally took its toll and he ended it all on July 11, 2007, by jumping to his death from a second-floor motel balcony in Tracy. He was 67.