Michael Nesmith, co-founding member, vocalist, and guitarist of The Monkees, has died at the age of 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 said 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.”
According to a representative for the band, Nesmith passed away from heart failure.
The Monkees formed in 1965 when television producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider recruited Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones to be in a sitcom of the same name. As Dolenz recalled, “The Monkees was a TV show about an imaginary band, a band that wanted to be The Beatles. Bands all over the country wanted to be The Beatles. We were a band (as portrayed on the TV show) that was never successful.”
However, the band quickly became a hit in real life. Initially, the producers recruited songwriter duo Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to write music for the show, as well as for the band’s 1966 debut, The Monkees. The Monkees themselves were not allowed to play instruments on this album, but instead only sang. While the 1967 follow-up More of The Monkees contained more original songs written by Nesmith, including the hit “Mary, Mary,” the band still had little creative input.
That changed with 1967’s Headquarters, which saw The Monkees assume control of their musical expression. From 1967 to 1970, Nesmith emerged as a pop-rock visionary, penning several of The Monkees’ most iconic tracks, including “Circle Sky,” “Listen to the Band,” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere.”
Following the group’s breakup in 1970, Nesmith briefly led the First National Band, which pioneered the emerging genre of country rock. Nesmith and his bandmates put out three albums between 1970 and 1971, including the hits, “Joanne” and “Silver Moon.”
Nesmith briefly worked on a project called the Second National Band, but as the 1970s progressed, he began to focus more on production. Starting in 1979, he served as an executive producer on PopClips, a music video television program that aired on the cable channel Nickelodeon in 1980 and 1981. The show pioneered the use of Veejays, and is often cited as a direct predecessor to MTV.
Earlier this year, Nesmith embarked on a farewell tour alongside Micky Dolenz, who is now the sole surviving member of the Monkees. His final performance took place at The Greek Theater in November 2021. Check out footage of that performance, as well as a sample of some of his best-known songs, below.
Update: In a statement, Dolez said he is “heartbroken.” He added, “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.”