The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith died on Friday morning from natural causes. Nesmith’s family has said in a statement the musician passed away at home on December 10. He was 78 years old.
Just last month, Nesmith concluded a United States farewell tour with fellow Monkees bandmate Micky Dolenz. Dolenz is now the last surviving member of the made-for-television band.
“I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost a dear friend and partner,” Micky Dolenz wrote in a statement on Twitter. “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."
Monkees biographer and manager Andrew Sandoval wrote a tribute to Nesmith on Facebook. “I know that Michael was at peace with his legacy which included songwriting, producing, acting, direction, and so many innovative ideas and concepts. I am positive the brilliance he captured will resonate and offer the love and light towards which he always moved.”
Michael Nesmith was born in Houston in 1942, getting his start in music just by participating in choral and drama activities in high school. In 1965, following a tour of duty in the Air Force and some solo work, Nesmith auditioned to join the Monkees. The band was put together by TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider with the intention of doing a TV series about the adventures of a pop group. Although the music in the show was mostly created by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Nesmith shared some songs he'd written with producers. Several Nesmith originals made it into the TV show, and Nesmith amassed more songwriting credits than all the other members combined. Because of his dry sense of humor and taciturn demeanor, he was known as the "Quiet Monkee" in the group.
While the Monkees' show aired in the 60s and the quartet amassed chart status with hits like "I'm a Believer," Nesmith recorded his first solo album, Wichita Train Whistle Songs. Eventually, Nesmith departed the Monkees in 1969. He started his own group, the First National Band, who released two new albums via RCA in 1970: Magnetic South and Loose Salute. The song "Joanne" would go on to become a top 40 hit. Over the years, he played reunion concerts with the Monkees and the First National Band - usually with his custom Gretsch 12-string electric guitar.
As for more little-known-yet-impactful information about Nesmith, the musician was actually a big influence in the development of music videos. He created one of the first television programs dedicated to music videos, PopClips, which aired on Nickelodeon from 1980 to 1981. The show would pave the way for MTV. In fact, MTV asked Nesmith to help produce and create the channel, but he declined due to prior commitments with his production company.
Finally, Nesmith had some sway in the film industry thanks to a substantial inheritance from his mother - Bette Nesmith Graham, inventor of Liquid Paper. He founded Pacific Arts, a multimedia production and distribution company, in 1974 - through which he helped develop PopClips. Pacific Arts focused on home video distribution in the 80s, and released the home video Elephant Parts in 1981: a long-form video featuring various comedy skits and music videos.
Nesmith was also the executive producer behind a number of films (including Repo Man). His memoir Infinite Tuesday - which delved into his relationship with the Monkees - was released in 2017.
Michael Nesmith is survived by three children from his first marriage - Christian, Jonathan, and Jessica Nesmith - and a son from a relationship with Nurit Wilde, Jason Nesmith, as well as two grandchildren.
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