Michael Nesmith, Monkees Singer and Guitarist, Dies at 78

Michael Nesmith The Monkees

Michael Nesmith -- the longtime singer/guitarist of The Monkees and whose company inspired the creation of MTV -- has died. He was 78.

The Nesmith family released a statement to Rolling Stone, which first broke the story, "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 statement added, "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."

Andrew Sandoval, the group's and Nesmith's manager, took to Twitter and paid tribute to his longtime friend and client, writing: "It is with deep sadness that I mark the passing of Michael Nesmith. We shared many travels and projects together over the course of 30 years, which culminated in a Monkees farewell tour that wrapped up only a few weeks ago."

"That tour was a true blessing for so many," Sandoval added. "And in the end 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."

The Monkees -- comprised of Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz -- formed in 1965 specifically for a TV audience. Their formation was a counter to The Beatles' popular musical comedies, A Hard Day's Night and Help! The Monkees would eventually hit the air in 1966 on NBC, and it was an instant success. The show lasted only two seasons but, in that short time, it earned critical acclaim after scoring an Emmy in 1967 for Outstanding Comedy Series. The Monkees' TV success laid the groundwork to their ultimate stardom on the radio.

"Last Train to Clarksville" was the band's first hit. The 1966 classic enjoyed five consecutive weeks as a top-3 single in the U.S. They followed it up with two more hits -- "I'm a Believer" and "Daydream Believer." "I'm a Believer" was a No. 1 hit in the U.K.

Nesmith, hardly ever seen without his trademark green wool hat, wrote many of the band's hit songs including "Mary, Mary," "Circle Sky," "Listen to the Band" and "The Girl I Knew Somewhere." 

The Monkees

The Monkees.


The Monkees would later split in 1971. The group reunited in 2012 after Jones died. The band had previously reunited, but not with Nesmith in the fold. Tork died in 2019.

The band was forced to postpone the last four dates of their 2018 tour after Nesmith underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery. Nesmith's final show was on Nov. 14. Nesmith and Dolenz, now the lone surviving member, appeared together at the Greek Theatre in L.A. They were slated to perform on a cruise in early 2022, which was supposed to mark their true and final performance together. 

Nesmith, along with Tork, famously spearheaded a revolt that culminated with the band members wrestling control from music producer Don Kirshner. Nesmith had grown furious over the fact the band members didn't have creative control of their albums.

In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Nesmith explained why he was so adamant the band needed to write and record their own material. He told the outlet, "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," Nesmith added. "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?'"

The Monkees

The Monkees album cover.


The band's first two albums -- The Monkees and More of the Monkees -- were back-to-back No. 1 LPs. The albums enjoyed top-rank status for 31 straight weeks in the mid 1960s. 

Nesmith would later form First National Band, which produced three albums. He also formed Second National Band, but neither band enjoyed commercial success, much less come close to what The Monkees accomplished in the 1960s.

Nesmith, a native of Houston, also wrote songs for other artists, including The Stone Poney's "Different Drum" and Lynn Anderson's 1975 country hit, "I've Never Loved Anyone More." In 1974, Nesmith founded Pacific Arts Corp., a multimedia firm that, among other endeavors, produced a music video show dubbed "PopClips." That show aired on the up-and-coming network Nickelodeon. This production would go on to inspire Warner Bros. to create MTV.

In 1982, Nesmith co-wrote and starred in a collection of comedy skits and music videos dubbed Elephant Parts, which would earn him the first-ever GRAMMY Award for Video of the Year.

Nesmith's parents divorced when he was four years old but his mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, would earn fame in her own right as the inventor of the typewriter correction fluid known as Liquid Paper. That product earned Bette, a single mother working as a typist, a massive fortune. When she died in 1980, Nesmith reportedly inherited half of Bette's estate, estimated at around $50 million.

Nesmith, who served two years in the Air Force, is survived by his three sons and a daughter.