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P.F. Sloan, at 70; wrote ‘Eve of Destruction’ then became recluse

P. F. Sloan, left, and Johnny Rivers compared harmonica techniques. Mr. Sloan wrote “Secret Agent Man” for Rivers.ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE 1965/Associated Press

NEW YORK — P.F. Sloan, a singer and songwriter of somewhat enigmatic repute, whose apocalyptic anthem "Eve of Destruction," written when he was just 19, was a seminal protest song of the 1960s, died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 70.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his publicist, Sangeeta Haindl.

In the 1960s, Mr. Sloan was a precocious and prominent figure in the pop music world. He and a co-writer, Steve Barri, were a team on the order of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, concocting surfer tunes such as "I Found a Girl" for Jan and Dean; the jinglelike declaration of youthful independence "Let Me Be" for the Turtles; "A Must to Avoid," a jaunty ditty complete with dating advice, recorded by Herman's Hermits; and, perhaps most memorably, "Secret Agent Man," a rocker of a television theme song that became a hit for Johnny Rivers.

"Eve of Destruction," a song about the threatening ills of the world that makes references to the Vietnam War, civil rights, and space travel, begins:

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"The Eastern world it is explodin',

Violence flarin', bullets loadin',

You're old enough to kill but not for votin',

You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin',

And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin'.''

It continues with the refrain:

''But you tell me

Over and over and over again, my friend

Ah, you don't believe

We're on the eve of destruction.''

It was clearly influenced by Bob Dylan, the articulate spokesman for the emergent genre of folk rock, and different from anything Mr. Sloan had written before.

In an interview Tuesday, Barri recalled that though he was the duo's primary lyricist, "Eve of Destruction" was written, both words and music, almost entirely by Mr. Sloan.

The song, which became a No. 1 hit for singer Barry McGuire, was controversial. Politicians and other musicians debated whether its message, that violence and hypocrisy were a grave threat to civilization, was an accurate depiction of the state of the world, a healthy message to transmit in pop music, or a reasonable representation of the outlook of America's youth.

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It also changed Mr. Sloan's life.

Increasingly interested in protest music and probingly self-conscious work, he split from Barri and made recordings of his own, including the 1968 album "Measure of Pleasure." But, very shortly and abruptly, he then retreated into seclusion.

By the early 1970s, the songwriter Jimmy Webb had written a song, "P.F. Sloan," lionizing Mr. Sloan's renegade musical spirit: "I have been seeking P.F. Sloan/But no one knows where he has gone."

Mr. Sloan was something of a recluse for several decades, spending a good deal of time in India.

In a 2014 book, "What's Exactly the Matter With Me? Memoirs of a Life in Music," written with S.E. Feinberg, Mr. Sloan was forthright about his battles with drug abuse and mental illness, which resulted in his being institutionalized for a time.

"Eve of Destruction" changed his priorities and made him "want to be the next Bob Dylan, or whatever," Barri recalled.

Asked if he understood what happened to his friend, Barri said:

"He was two people. We were just two Jewish kids from New York. We liked the same movies. We played Wiffle ball together. But when 'Eve of Destruction' became such a smash, he went with Barry McGuire to England, and he came back a different person. His girlfriend, who I later married — both of us felt he never returned from England."

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He paused and then added: "He was a major, major talent. God, he was good."

Philip Gary Schlein grew up in New York City and on Long Island before his family moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s, which is when they changed the family name to Sloan. (The F in P.F. comes from the nickname Flip, given to him as a child by his sister. He later legally changed his middle name to Faith.)

His father, Harry, was a pharmacist. His mother, the former Claire (or Claritsa) Petreanu, was from Romania. According to Mr. Sloan's autobiography, his mother beat him daily as a child, though there are dubious factual claims elsewhere in the book, including one in which Mr. Sloan asserts he met James Dean in 1957, two years after Dean's death in an auto accident.

By his midteens, Mr. Sloan was writing promising songs, leading him to be paired, in 1963, with Barri, by the producer Lou Adler, who was then with Screen Gems' music publishing division. Their early song "Kick That Little Foot, Sally Ann" was a hit in 1964 for the singer Round Robin.

Mr. Sloan leaves no immediate survivors.