Monkees bassist Peter Tork dies at 77

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Peter Tork (third from left) accepts an Emmy in 1967 along with Monkees bandmates Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz. | AP

Peter Tork, the bassist for 1960s rock favorites the Monkees, is dead at 77.

Tork’s cause of death was not made public, though he was diagnosed with a rare tongue cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma, in 2009. “I am told he slipped away peacefully,” bandmate Michael Nesmith wrote on Facebook.

In his post, Nesmith said Tork “will be a part of me forever. I have said this before — and now it seems even more apt — the reason we called it a band is because it was where we all went to play. A band no more — and yet the music plays on — an anthem to all who made the Monkees and the TV show our private — dare I say ‘secret’ — playground.”

The other surviving Monkee, Micky Dolenz, expressed his sorrow on Twitter, writing, “There are no words right now…heart broken over the loss of my Monkee brother, Peter Tork.”

The band’s official Twitter also paid tribute to Tork with a clip of the singer.

Peter Halsten Thorkelson was born in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 13, 1942. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he moved to New York after attending college and became part of Greenwich Village’s famed folk scene of the early ’60s. Tork auditioned for the Monkees, the fictitious pop group that was formed for the television sitcom of the same name, after his friend — and soon-to-be rock ‘n’ roll great — Stephen Stills suggested he try out for the show

Along with Davy Jones, Dolenz and Nesmith, Tork would become one of the founding members of the Monkees, appearing on the program between 1966-1968. With hits including “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer” and “Daydream Believer,” the Monkees were one of the highest-charting acts of the late ’60s.

Jones died in 2012.

When “The Monkees” debuted in September 1966, Tork and fellow Monkees Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones became overnight teen idols.

Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider modeled the show after the Beatles’ popular musical comedies “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!,” seeking to create a band that would mirror them in cheekiness if not musical talent.

In the Monkees iteration, Nesmith was the serious one, Jones the cute one and Dolenz the zany one.

Tork said he adopted his “dummy” persona from the way he’d get audiences to engage with him at Greenwich Village folk clubs in the early 1960s.

He knew only one member of the Monkees before the show’s debut, Nesmith who had been running “Hoot Nights” at the Troubadour nightclub, where Tork would occasionally perform after moving to L.A.

During its two-year run “The Monkees” would win an Emmy for outstanding comedy series and the group would land seven songs in Billboard’s Top 10. “I’m a Believer,” ”Daydream Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville,” would reach No. 1.

Initially, the Monkees was a band whose members didn’t play their instruments or write many of their songs, something that infuriated both Tork and Nesmith.

Tork would tell of going to an early recording session, only to be told dismissively that session musicians were laying down the musical tracks and all the Monkees had to do was sing.

“I was a hired hand, and I didn’t quite know that, and I didn’t quite get it,” he told The Associated Press in 2000. “I had fantasies of being more important than it turns out I was.”

Peter Tork performs in New York City in 2016. | Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

Peter Tork performs in New York City in 2016. | Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

Eventually he and Nesmith wrested control of the band’s musical fate from Don Kirshner, who had been brought in as the show’s music producer. By the group’s third album, “Headquarters,” the Monkees were playing their instruments and even performed live in Hawaii.

After the show concluded in 1968 the band went on a lengthy concert tour that at one point included Jimi Hendrix as the opening act. But music critics had turned on them. They were dismissed as the PreFab Four, a mocking comparison to the Beatles.

Tork left the group and TV show in 1968, teaming back up with Jones and Dolenz in 1986 for a successful 20th anniversary tour. In the years after, Tork mostly played with his groups Peter Tork Project, the Dashboard Saints and Shoe Suede Blues.

For several years he struggled financially and creatively, working for a time as a waiter and a schoolteacher.

By the mid-1980s, thanks to TV reruns and album reissues, the Monkees gained a new, younger following, and Tork rejoined the others for reunion tours. All four produced a new album, “Justus,” in 1996 featuring them on all of the instrumentals and including songs they had written.

Following his cancer diagnosis, Tork wrote about his disease in a 2009 essay for The Washington Post.

“I don’t count myself as being afraid to die, but the news hit me like a fist to the chest,” he wrote, describing his decision not to cancel his live shows after undergoing surgery. “I know I’m taking a chance here, because one of the side effects of the radiation is supposed to be hoarseness,” he wrote. “The radiologist told me, ‘Well, you play guitar and you sing. Perhaps you won’t sing, but maybe you’ll play guitar a lot more.’ ”

In 2016, the surviving Monkees released “Good Times!,” their first album in 20 years. A Monkees Christmas album in 2019 featured Tork in a solo cover of “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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