Michael Nesmith, guitarist of the ’60s pop group The Monkees, has died at the age of 78.
The famed singer-songwriter, who composed some of the band’s catalogue, including tracks such as “Papa Gene’s Blues,” “You Told Me” and “You Just May Be the One,” died of natural causes Friday morning, according to statement released by his family.
“With infinite love, we announce that Michael Nesmith has passed away this morning in his home, surrounded by family, peacefully and of natural causes,” Nesmith’s family said. “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.”
Monkees member Micky Dolenz is now the sole surviving member of the group.
“I’m heartbroken, Dolenz said in a statement following Nesmith’s death. “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.
Dolenz added: “I’ll miss it all so much, especially the shtick.”
Nesmith found commercial prominence as a musician when he auditioned for the NBC sitcom, “The Monkees,” which centered on the antics of a rock ‘n roll foursome. Nesmith was running “hoot nights” at the popular West Hollywood nightclub The Troubadour when he saw a trade publication ad seeking “four insane boys” to play rock musicians in a band modeled after the Beatles.
“The Monkees” television debut turned him and fellow band members Dolenz, Peter Tork and David Jones into overnight rock stars. The show, which premiered in 1966, rocketed the group to fame, scoring No. 1 hits and chart-topping albums.
Jones, with his British accent and boyish good looks, was the group’s cute lead singer. Dolenz became the wacky drummer, although he had to learn to play the drums as the show went along. Tork, a folk-rock musician, portrayed the comically clueless bass player. Nesmith, with his twangy Texas accent and the wool hat he’d worn to his audition, became the serious but naive lead guitarist.
During the tumultuous two-year run, “The Monkees” won the 1967 Emmy for best comedy series.
After the show concluded in 1968 the band embarked on a lengthy concert tour where members sang many of their own songs and played their own instruments before crowds of adoring fans. Jimi Hendrix was sometimes their opening act.
Following the group’s breakup in 1970, Nesmith moved on to a long and creative career, not only as a musician but as a writer, producer and director of films, author of several books, head of a media arts company and creator of a music video format that led to the creation of MTV.
Nesmith rarely rejoined the others for reunion tours, leading many to believe he disliked the band and the show, something he steadfastly denied.
For the Monkees’ 30th anniversary he induced the others to reunite to record a new album, “Justus,” for which all four composed the songs and played the instruments. He also rejoined the others for a brief tour and wrote and directed their 1997 TV reunion film, “Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees.”
After fighting for creative control in The Monkees in the late ’60s, Nesmith went on to form the country rock outfit The First National, which scored a top 25 hit in 1970 with “Joanne,” according to Billboard.
Nesmith’s fans went on social media to share what the singer’s life and work meant to them.
“My childhood is now officially gone…” Phoef Sutton tweeted.
“This is not the time to be losing Monkees,” Frank Conniff wrote. “This man was a major talent. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, when are you going to do the right thing and give these national treasures the recognition they deserve?”
“His body of work speaks for itself with honesty and conviction,” Kiefo Nilsson tweeted. “Rest In Peace to one of the greats.”
Born in Houston, Nesmith was the only child of Bette Nesmith, a divorcée who went on to create the typewriter correction fluid Liquid Paper, which made her a fortune by the mid-1970s. She eventually left her fortune to Nesmith and to nonprofit foundations she endowed to promote women in business and the arts.
Nesmith, who was married and divorced three times, is survived by four children: Christian, Jason, Jessica and Jonathan.
Contributing: The Associated Press