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Michael Nesmith, wool hat-wearing member of The Monkees, dies at 78

Nesmith died peacefully in his sleep Friday morning, according to a family statement.

The Monkees featured Peter Tork (from left), Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith.
The Monkees featured Peter Tork (from left), Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith.
© Everett Collection / Rex Feat

Michael Nesmith, the singer-songwriter and guitarist of the 1960’s pop group the Monkees, has died. He was 78.

According to a family statement published by Rolling Stone on Friday, Nesmith “passed away this morning in his home, surrounded by family, peacefully and of natural causes. … We thank you for the love and light that all of you have shown him and us.”

Nesmith was one of four young musician-singers brought together in 1965 specifically to create the Monkees, a pop-rock group, for a TV sitcom of the same name. The group featured drummer-singer Micky Dolenz, keyboardist-bassist Peter Tork, and lead singer Davy Jones. Tork passed away in 2019, Jones in 2012.

The avant garde series, created by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, followed the day-to-day doings of a struggling band who lived together in an oceanfront California apartment while trying to make it big in the music business. The half-hour episodes featured the foursome embroiled in preposterous situations that resolved amid music videoesque escapades featuring their original songs performed and played by the four stars. The show ran from 1966 to 1968 but yielded a cult following of fans and sold-out concerts (a la Beatles) across the globe.

Three of the Monkees’ hits made it to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart — “I’m a Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville” (both in 1966) and “Daydream Believer” in 1967.

For the Monkees, Nesmith famously penned “Mary, Mary,” “Listen to the Band” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere.” One of Nesmith’s biggest songwriting credits outside the Monkees was “Different Drum” recorded most famously by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1967.

After the Monkees’ official breakup in 1970 (following the departure of Tork and Nesmith a few years earlier), the four musicians pursued solo careers with Jones perhaps enjoying the biggest success. Reunion tours featuring various groupings of Jones, Tork and Dolenz, followed in subsequent years, with Nesmith opting out to pursue a career producing music videos and recording his own music. He joined Tork and Dolenz for a tour in 2012 in the wake of Jones’ passing.

Most recently, Nesmith and Dolenz reunited for a Monkees Farewell Tour, which brought them to the Rosemont Theatre in November. (See video below, with Dolenz, front left, and Nesmith, front right.) The tour played its final date on Nov. 14 in Los Angeles.

In an interview late Friday with Variety, Monkees manager/producer Andrew Sandoval revealed that Nesmith, who appeared frail throughout the tour, had been hospitalized for a week prior to his death. The tour, Sandoval said, was Nesmith’s way of thanking the band’s devoted fans.

“He wanted to wrap up things with the Monkees,” Sandoval said. “He completed every date and did very well, and in fact got quite a bit stronger. He started out the tour where he could only perform sitting down, and then gradually got a cane and was standing up — and then for most of the shows, from about two or three weeks in, he was up for the entire duration of the show. He died knowing that they were beloved, and he finally embraced what they meant to so many other people. I think he finally got it.”

Born Robert Michael Nesmith in 1942 in Houston, Texas, Nesmith enlisted in the Air Force when he was 18, where he trained as an aircraft mechanic, according to his Wikipedia biography. Following his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles where he would craft his career in music.

According to his memoir, in 1979, Nesmith began production on a weekly comedy/music video TV program titled PopClips, which aired for two years on Nickelodeon. “Audio records are played on radio, so a video record should be played on video — on television,” he wrote. The show (sans Nesmith, who moved on to other projects) helped launch MTV in 1981.

Interestingly, Nesmith wasn’t the only one in his family to achieve widespread success. His mom, Bette Nesmith Graham, a typist and commercial artist in the 1950s and ‘60s, was the inventor of Mistake Out, a white correction fluid that would be renamed Liquid Paper. It ultimately became a multi-million-dollar company for her family and the “best friend” to typewriter enthusiasts around the world for decades.