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10 December 2021

Michael Nesmith, The Monkees’ Guitarist, Vocalist & Songwriter, Dies At 78

Michael Nesmith Monkees Dies 78
Photo: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo
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Michael Nesmith, guitarist and vocalist with The Monkees, has died of natural causes, his family has 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,” the family statement says. “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.”

Nesmith, whose laconic, deadpan comic style was a key contribution to the slapstick humour of the band’s self-titled hit 1960s sitcom, also was the group’s staunchest advocate for musical integrity. He fought for the band’s right to play their own instruments and contributing some of The Monkees’ most cherished and enduring songs, most notably the country-tinged Papa Gene’s Blues (with its familiar refrain, “I have no more than I did before…”).

In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Nesmith said of the band’s determination to write and record their own material: “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. It made for a better performance. It was more fun.”

The Monkees were the made-for-American-TV group that hit the airwaves in 1966 at the height of Beatlemania. The NBC series aired only two seasons but won the 1967 Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and launched the group to radio stardom. Their first hit was Last Train to Clarksville, which started a run of five consecutive Top 3 singles stateside. The song also was the first of three chart-toppers followed by I’m a Believer — which also hit No. 1 in the UK — and Daydream Believer.

The sitcom was created by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider as an American answer to The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night with a heavy dose of Marx Brothers. The four actor-singers recruited through ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter would be the Texas-born Nesmith, the British stage actor Davy Jones, former Hollywood child actor Mickey Dolenz and scenester of the Greenwich Village and Laurel Canyon folk music communities, Peter Tork.

The series was an immediate hit, particularly with children, and if the show’s popularity was short-lived, the band’s musical popularity and legacy of hits would last well into the 21st Century. Though Nesmith mostly resisted the group’s various comebacks and reunion tours – rumours of inter-band tensions, particularly between Tork and Nesmith, reach back to the ’60s – the guitarist did take part in a 2012 reunion tour and performed on the 2016 Monkees album Good Times!

Nesmith and Dolenz completed a farewell tour last month. A 2018 Nesmith-Dolenz tour was postponed when Nesmith underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery.

As the leader of the post-Monkees group the First National Band, Nesmith became a leading and early purveyor of country rock, scoring a hit with the haunting 1970 ballad Joanne.

In the 1980s, he again found himself at the forefront of a movement, this time the music video revolution. Nesmith co-wrote, starred in and produced Elephant Parts, an hour long 1981 collection of music video and comedy skits that won the Grammy for Video of the Year. The project would inspire Warner Television to create MTV.

Nesmith’s talent for innovation ran in the family: His mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, was a typist when, during the mid-1950s, she concocted a correction fluid that would become Liquid Paper, making the economically struggling single mother a fortune.

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