Mike Nesmith, the wool-cap-wearing singer/songwriter who formed one-fourth of the iconic made-for-TV band “The Monkees,” and who performed alongside bandmate Micky Dolenz at the Greek Theatre just last month, has died at age 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 announced in a statement Friday to Rolling Stone. “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.”
Known for his Texas twang and robust sense of humor, Nesmith was the rebel of the group that also featured Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones and was introduced to TV audiences in 1966. As the show’s success grew over two seasons, Nesmith vocally lamented the group’s lack of musical control and — as a musician — the fact that the band didn’t play their own instruments on TV.
Nesmith, a Texas native whose mother invented Liquid Paper, was already an up-and-coming musician before landing the role on “The Monkees,” penning the song “Different Drum,” which was performed by the Stone Poneys, a band fronted by singer Linda Ronstadt. He also penned lyrics for songs such as “Mary, Mary,” “Pretty Little Princess” and “Some of Shelly’s Blues.”
But it was “The Monkees” that made Nesmith a star. He was the even-keeled character on the show about a fictional, Beatles-type foursome looking to make it big in the music world. The trademark green wool cap he wore on the show wasn’t an invention of the show’s producers. Nesmith wore it to his audition because he rode a motorcycle and used the cap to the keep the hair out of its eyes.
The TV show — and the fictional band it portrayed — both became hits. The group had a string of chart-topping singles, most notably “Daydream Believer,” “I’m a Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville.” Their albums also flew off store shelves, and the group at one point was outselling The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
The success stoked division on “The Monkees” set, with the four cast members — empowered by their critical success and a desire to further their music careers — staging a coup to oust music producer Don Kirshner.
“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 2012. “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?”’
The series, however, ended after its second season, with the group appearing in a tepidly received film satire titled “Head.”
Nesmith continued his recording career after “The Monkees,” first in a group called the First National Band, and he subsequently formed a music production company. He also co-produced several films, most notably the cult hit “Repo Man,” in which he made a cameo appearance.
“The Monkees” reunited for several tours over the years. Nesmith declined to participate in some, but he told Rolling Stone in 2012 that didn’t mean he was trying to distance himself from the group.
“Quite the contrary,” he said. “It was a nice part of the resume. It was fun for me, and a great time of my life. I mean, where do you want be in the sixties except the middle of rock & roll, hanging out with the scene? London was an absolute blast, and so was L.A. back then. There was so much going on back then.”
The death of Nesmith leaves Dolenz as the only surviving member of “The Monkees.” Jones died in 2012 and Tork in 2019.
Nesmith and Dolenz wrapped up a farewell tour last month with a performance at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre.
“I’m heartbroken,” Dolenz wrote on Twitter Friday. “I’ve lost a dear friend and partner. I’m so grateful that we could spend the last couple of months together doing what we loved best — singing, laughing and doing shtick. I’ll miss it all so much. Especially the shtick. Rest in peace, Nez. All my love.”