Monkees singer, songwriter, and guitarist Michael Nesmith died on Friday of natural causes, his family announced. He was 78.
“With Infinite Love we announce that Michael Nesmith has passed away this morning in his home, surrounded by family, peacefully and of natural causes,” his family said in a statement. “We ask that you respect our privacy at this time and we thank you for the love and light that all of you have shown him and us.”
Born on December 30th, 1942 in Houston, TX, Nesmith was known for his trademark green wool hat and Texas drawl, rising to prominence with the 1960s pop-rock outfit originally put together by TV producers. The band’s self-titled television program ran from 1966–1968, though the group’s music had a far greater impact. Nesmith was the writer behind such everlasting songs as “Mary, Mary”, “Circle Sky”, “Listen to the Band”, and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”.
Nesmith and his fellow Monkees would ultimately go beyond their written lines to become symbols of the countercultural upheaval of the 1960s. Though network television cast them as a group of four cute, fun, vanilla boys, the band—consisting of Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz—had aspirations beyond their pre-scripted facade. Nesmith led the charge against their corporate masters, most notably producer Don Kirshner, as they explored the first dayglow drops of the psychedelic revolution. In 1967, The Monkees broke from the record establishment with Headquarters and never looked back.
“We were kids with our own taste in music and were happier performing songs we liked—and/or wrote—than songs that were handed to us,” Nesmith told Rolling Stone in a 2012 interview. “It made for a better performance. It was more fun. That this became a bone of contention seemed strange to me, and I think to some extent to each of us—sort of ‘What’s the big deal, why won’t you let us play the songs we are singing?’”
Tork and Nesmith both left The Monkees in 1969, leading to the group’s dissolution following the release of Changes in 1970, featuring only Jones and Dolenz. Michael went on to form the country-rock outfit the First National Band. The group never found success as Nesmith was still cast in the shadow of The Monkees, only to dissolve First National Band on the precipice of the Eagles‘ overwhelming success with “Take It Easy”.
“I was heartbroken beyond speech,” Nesmith told Rolling Stone in 2018. “I couldn’t even utter the words ‘the Eagles’ and I loved Hotel California and I love the Eagles, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, all that stuff. That was right in my wheelhouse and I was agonized, Van Gogh–agonized, not to compare myself to him, but I wanted to cut something off because I was like, ‘Why is this happening?’ The Eagles now have the biggest selling album of all time and mine is sitting in the closet of a closed record company?”
Nesmith went through the 1970s releasing solo albums that went largely unnoticed. He became a pioneer of music videos in 1977 when he produced video accompaniment for his single, “Rio” which would go on to find success in Europe and Australia. The 1980s saw Nesmith chase business and theatrical pursuits alike as he invested in films including Repo Man and Tapeheads with money he inherited from his mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, inventor of Liquid Paper.
Ultimately, Nesmith found his way back to The Monkees, joining the group on the 1996 LP Justus and a brief tour of the U.K. He became a permanent member of the band following Jones’ death in 2012 and took part in its 2016 comeback album Good Times! Following Tork’s death in 2019, Nesmith and Dolenz launched a farewell tour earlier this year and played their final show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, CA on November 14th.
The Monkees Farewell Tour with Michael Nesmith & Micky Dolenz at The Greek
[H/T Rolling Stone]