Michael Nesmith, guitarist in The Monkees who enjoyed a rich career as a songwriter and music business innovator, died Friday, Dec. 10, nearly three weeks from his 79th birthday.
“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 confirmed 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.”
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Born in Houston, Texas on Dec. 30, 1942, Nesmith's life was interesting from a young age. His mother, a divorced secretary, invented a type of correction fluid to fix typewriting mistakes. Her company, Liquid Paper, grew into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Nesmith seriously pursued music after a stint in the Air Force, emceeing at The Troubadour in Los Angeles when he auditioned for a TV series called The Monkees. The show was to feature the fictional exploits of a rock band, who would in turn play actual songs that would be released to radio.
Alongside Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones, Nesmith - clad in a recognizable green wool cap and speaking in his Texas drawl - helped propel The Monkees to incredible heights. The show aired for two seasons, and the group launched six Top 10 hits into the U.S. charts, including No. 1 hits "Last Train to Clarksville," "I'm a Believer" and "Daydream Believer."
Perhaps more than his bandmates, Nesmith chafed under the band's "pre-fab" image. A prolific songwriter and 12-string guitarist, he lent some of his songs to the group (most notably "Listen to the Band" and "Propiniquity") but saved many of them for after he left the group in early 1970. (Perhaps his most famous non-Monkees song was "Different Drum," a Top 20 hit for The Stone Poneys - featuring a young Linda Ronstadt - in 1967.) As the leader of The First National Band, he had minor hits with "Joanne" and "Silver Moon"; more significantly, his solo style was a fusion of genres that became known as "country rock," influencing groups like the Eagles and Poco.
Nesmith founded the Pacific Arts Corporation in 1974 to foster his increasing interest in multimedia. The company was an early pioneer in the burgeoning home video market, and Nesmith began to show great interest in combining visual media with music even further. He developed a series for the fledgling Nickelodeon network called PopClips that would be sold to Time Warner and developed as a full network known as MTV in 1981. In 1985, Nesmith oversaw the creation of an experimental comedy series called Television Parts that gave early on-screen exposure to future stars like Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, Arsenio Hall and Jerry Seinfeld. (Television Parts was inspired in part by a "video album" of Nesmith's, Elephant Parts - the first video to win a Grammy Award.)
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Around the same time, MTV began airing reruns of The Monkees, which proved to be incredibly popular and spurred a 20th anniversary reunion tour. Nesmith only participated at an encore during an engagement at Los Angeles' Greek Theatre, but would appear with the group sporadically throughout the years. The 1995 album Justus marked Nesmith's return to the studio as a Monkee, and he would remain a part of the touring line-up ever since - often with his son Christian joining the group as well. Jones died of a heart attack in 2012 and Tork died of cancer in 2019, though all members were present in some way on the group's well-received final albums, Good Times! (2016) and Christmas Party (2018). Nesmith and Dolenz (who most recently released an album of Nesmith songs produced by Christian) embarked on a final tour in 2021, delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their final show occurred at the Greek on Nov. 14.
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Nesmith was married three times, most recently to Victoria Kennedy, whom he divorced in 2011. His first wife, Phyllis Ann Barbour, is the mother of three of his children: Christian, Jonathan and Jessica. A fourth child, Jason, was born in 1968 to Nesmith and photographer Nurit Wilde.
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