Michael Nesmith, Monkees Singer and Guitarist, Dies at 78

Songwriter continued his career as a member of the country rock group First National Band

Michael Nesmith (Getty Images)
Michael Nesmith (Getty Images)

Michael Nesmith, one of the members of the 1960s pop rock group The Monkees, has died of natural causes, according to his family. He was 78.

Nesmith was known for wearing a distinctive green wool hat as he performed with the pop idols, and for his 12-string electric Gretch guitar. He sang and even wrote some of the group’s more memorable hits such as “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” “Mary, Mary,” and “Listen to the Band.” He would continue his music career as a member of the country rock group First National Band after the break up of The Monkees, even scoring a Top 40 hit for his track “Joanne.”

“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 via Rolling Stone. “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.”

Nesmith had recently performed in a farewell tour along with the last surviving member of The Monkees Micky Dolenz, with the last date of the reunion tour being a show last month at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Nov. 14. Dolenz, in a tribute to Nesmith posted online, said he was “so grateful that we could spend the last couple of months together doing what we loved best – singing, laughing, and doing shtick.”

The Monkees started as a fictional band that grew out of a sitcom of four mop-topped teens who looked and wanted to find the same success as The Beatles, with Nesmith as one of the starring members alongside Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones. But the group’s music exploded far beyond the TV show that was eventually canceled, with the band producing mega hits like “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and “Daydream Believer,” ultimately selling 75 million records worldwide.

And while the band’s music was supervised by producer Don Kirshner, it was Nesmith who led a fight in 1967 to wrest control of the band’s creative control, ultimately releasing albums like “Headquarters” and other albums on their own without the added oversight.

Nesmith would exit the Monkees in 1970, shortly after Tork, too, retired from the group, in order to pursue his own post-Monkees career, forming the First National Band along with John Kuehne, Jon Rhodes and Red Rhodes. He’s also credited as a songwriter on a Linda Ronstadt song “Different Drum,” and he’s a Grammy winner for Video of the Year for his show “Elephant Parts.”

Outside of music, Nesmith had a career in film and television. In 1979, Nesmith conceived of a music video television show called “PopClips” that proved to be one of the forerunners to MTV. The series was short lived and was only intended as a promotional device for Warner Communications, but upon its sale, Time Warner/Amex would develop the idea into what became MTV.

He also produced a show called “Elephant Parts” in 1982, an hour-long program that combined sketches and music videos and even featured early career performances from comics like Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Whoopi Goldberg. And his work as a producer even extended to film, as Nesmith is credited as an executive producer on the 1984 cult film “Repo Men,” among other titles such as “Tapeheads” and “Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann.”

In addition to his touring dates as part of the Monkees reunion, Nesmith continued to record new music later in his life, including his album “The Ocean” in 2015 and a live recording of a performance at The Troubadour in Los Angeles in 2018 along with the First National Band.