Singer and actor Rod Lauren remains best remembered for his 1960 pop hit "If I Had a Girl." Born Roger Lawrence Strunk in Fresno, CA, on March 20, 1940, he grew up in nearby Tracy, playing trombone in his high school marching band. After graduation Strunk began singing in Fresno-area nightclubs with a backing group dubbed the Buddies. His traditional crooner approach contrasted sharply with prevailing rock & roll sensibilities, and in 1959 he signed to the RCA label, adopting the alias Rod Lauren. With his debut ballad, "If I Had a Girl," he scored his first and only Top 40 hit. Subsequent efforts including "A Wild Imagination" and "Listen My Love" failed to generate similar interest, and later Chancellor label releases like "A Searcher for Love" and "I Ain't Got You" attracted even scarcer attention. Lauren nevertheless continued headlining clubs in southern California and Las Vegas while also pursuing an acting career, in 1962 co-starring in an episode of television's Alfred Hitchcock Presents. A year later, he starred in the B-movie The Crawling Hand. In 1964 Lauren traveled to the Philippines to shoot the war feature Once Before I Die. There he met rising Filipina actress Nida Blanca, and after more than a decade of shuttling between Manila and Los Angeles, the couple finally wed in 1979.
With his singing and acting careers long since stalled, Lauren settled permanently in Manila and remained in the limelight via Blanca, who emerged as one of the Philippines' most beloved actresses thanks to her leading role in the long-running sitcom John en Marsha. But on November 7, 2001, Blanca was found stabbed to death. A hired killer named Philip Medel confessed to the crime, but claimed Lauren commissioned his wife's murder. The crime dominated headlines throughout the Filipino media, and while Lauren was interrogated, he was never formally charged. In January 2002, he was allowed to return to his hometown of Tracy to attend to his dying mother, and when he refused to return to Manila after her passing, murder charges were filed. While working at a local Sears retail store, Lauren was arrested and jailed while awaiting an extradition hearing; in November 2003, a U.S. Magistrate denied extradition and ordered his release after Filipino authorities failed to supply sufficient evidence of his guilt. "The only thing the Philippine government had implicating me was the written confession of this person, Philip Medel, who I had never met," Lauren said later at a press conference. "He recanted it, dramatically, in open court five days later." Lauren later worked as a camera operator for Tracy's public access television station. On July 12, 2007, he committed suicide, throwing his body off the second-floor balcony of an area hotel. He was 67 years old. ~ Jason Ankeny