Videos by American Songwriter
“With Infinite Love we announce that Michael Nesmith has passed away this morning in his home, surrounded by family, peacefully and of natural causes,” said Nesmith’s family 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 Dec. 30, 1942, Nesmith was a pop music phenom and a later pioneer in country-rock, writing many of the Monkees songs, including “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” “Circle Sky,” ”Mary, Mary,” and “Listen to the Band,” along with writing and directing the Monkees television special, Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees. Nesmith joined original Monkees members Micky Dolenz, and the late Davy Jones and Peter Tork, for a brief reunion and tour in 1997 to support the show, one of many unions the foursome would have since disbanding in 1970.
The group’s first two albums The Monkees and More of the Monkees reached No. 1 on the charts in 1966 and 1967, and the band released several No. 1 hits, including “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” and “I’m a Believer,” along with three more top five hits within this time. Inspired by The Beatles 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night, The Monkees also starred in their own self-titled television variety show, which ran from 1966 though 1968 and won two Emmy Awards in 1967.
Throughout their career, Nesmith fought for the group to retain the rights to their music, including a battle with record producer Don Kirshner in 1967. The group continued to release more music independently, including their third and fourth albums Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. in 1967, and more. The band released their 13th and final album Christmas Party in 2018.
“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,” said Nesmith 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?’”
Following the break from the Monkees, Nesmith recorded several solo albums and went on working as a songwriter, penning “Different Drum” for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, and formed the country-rock band First National Band, who he played with from 1970 through 1972.
When Nesmith’s mother Bette Nesmith Graham, the inventor of Liquid Paper, passed away in 1980, he inherited a vast fortune and invested his money in various opportunities, and films, including the 1984 Alex Cox-helmed dark cult drama Repo Man with Emilio Estevez, and the 1988 film Tapeheads, starring Tim Robbins, John Cusack, and Nesmith, who made a cameo as “Water Man.”
In 1981, Nesmith won his first-ever Grammy Award for Video of the Year for the TV comedy special Elephant Parts.
Long after the Monkees disbanded 50 years ago, the group continued to get together for reunions and tours throughout the next five decades. In 2018, Nesmith had to cut a tour with Dolenz short to undergo quadruple bypass heart surgery.
By early 2021, Nesmith and surviving member Dolenz revealed The Monkees Farewell Tour and played their final show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles on Nov. 14. The duo were also scheduled to participate in the Beach Boys Cruise tour in March 2022.
Nesmith is survived by his three sons Christian, Jonathan, and Jason, and a daughter Jessica.
Main Photo: Michael Nesmith / Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images