Michael Nesmith, the singer-songwriter known for his time as the green wool hat-wearing member of the Monkees, died Dec. 10 of heart failure in Carmel Valley, California. He was 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.”
A Houston native raised in Dallas, Nesmith wrote many popular songs for the television pop-rock group, including “Mary, Mary,” “Circle Sky,” “Listen to the Band” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere.” He also had a 1970 hit on his own with “Joanne,” which he recorded with his post-Monkees project the First National Band.
After joining the Monkees in 1965, Nesmith said he was never quite as fond of his time with the band as frontman Davy Jones was, referring to Jones as the leading man and him and his other groupmates, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz, as the “side men.”
“It was nonstop from the moment the show aired, so there was a constant hyper-interest in the group of us,” he said of living life under a microscope during the band’s peak. “The meter was maxxed and stayed that way for a couple of years.”
The series aired from 1966 to 1968. Nesmith went on to have a solo career and is considered one of the pioneers of country rock. In 1981 he won a Grammy Award for video of the year.
Dolenz, 76, issued a statement Friday, noting, “I’m heartbroken. 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. Rest in peace, Nez. All my love, Mick”
Nesmith was also known for the way in which he fought for the Monkees to be able to write and record their own material, and helped push the group against record producer Don Kirshner in 1967 to allow them more creative control over what music they put out.
Still, he said he never considered himself “frustrated” by the band’s early creative restraints, just “confused.”
“All of us shared the desire to play the songs we were singing. Everyone was accomplished — the notion I was the only musician is one of those rumors that got started and won’t stop — but it wasn’t true,” he told an interviewer. “We were also 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. 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?'”
Monkees manager Andrew Sandoval paid tribute to Nesmith in a statement shared to Facebook, in which he expressed his “deep sadness” but also gratitude that the musician had been able to tour in his final months alongside Dolenz.
“That tour was a true blessing for so many. 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,” he wrote. “Nez expressed the highest part of his being through his voice. And you could get no closer to him than through knowing his work. May all those who loved him feel his comfort at this time — just listen and he will be there for you.”
When the Monkees went their separate ways, Nesmith formed the First National Band, a country-rock outfit that he said emerged out of an “odd spiral.”
“I didn’t really have a lot that was motivating me at the time,” he said of the group’s early releases. “I was kind of floating along and just singing whatever song popped into my head. But I didn’t have a focal point.”
Nesmith said he experienced “real pushback” from anti-Monkees fans after the group went their separate ways, and struggled to keep his career afloat.
“I just couldn’t get work,” he said, “and nobody wanted to come and hear me sing my music, especially when people said, ‘He’s singing country songs these days.’ They start thinking about George Jones driving his lawnmower to the liquor store.”
In the 1980s, he didn’t participate in Monkees reunion tours, giving the impression he was not on board with his past. ”Quite the contrary,” he said in 2013. “It was a nice part of the resume. It was fun for me, and a great time of my life. I mean, where do you want be in the ’60s except in the middle of rock ‘n’ roll, hanging out with the scene? London was an absolute blast, and so was L.A. back then. There was so much going on.”
Though Jones died in 2012 and Tork in 2019, Nesmith and Dolenz embarked on a two-month farewell tour that ended in mid-November.
Nesmith said that while he was “semi-retired,” he still enjoyed playing music and touring. “The music just lifts me up. It’s what makes life worth living these days, playing live music,” he said. “It’s something I’d never thought I’d say, because I never did enjoy it that much, but this is really a good time.”