Bob Rafelson death: Monkees co-creator and New Hollywood era director dies, aged 89

Bob Rafelson co-created The Monkees with the late Bert Schneider  (AP )
Bob Rafelson co-created The Monkees with the late Bert Schneider (AP )

Influential New Hollywood era director and co-creator of The Monkees Bob Rafelson has died. He was 89.

The filmmaker died peacefully and surrounded by his family at his home in Aspen, Colarado on Saturday (23 July), his wife Gabrielle Taurek Rafelson said.

Rafelson co-created the hit TV series The Monkees alongwith the late Bert Schneider, and the sitcom premiered on NBC in 1966. The idea for The Monkees, which follows the eponymously titled, fictional rock-and-roll band, predated The Beatles and the musical comedy A Hard Day’s Night, Rafelson previously said.

A production of Schneider and Rafelson’s independent company Raybert, which later became BBS, The Monkees was awarded Outstanding Comedy Series at the Emmys in 1967.

The Monkees vocalist, drummer and final surviving member Micky Dolen paid tribute to the director on Sunday afternoon (24 July) in a statement on Twitter.

“One day in the spring of 1966, I cut my classes in architecture at LA Trade Tech to take an audition for a new TV show called The Monkees,” he wrote, adding: “The co-creator/producer of the show was Bob Rafelson [and] at first, I mistook him for another actor there for the audition.

“Needless to say, I got the part and it completely altered my life. Regrettably, Bob passed away last night but I did get a chance to send him a message telling him how eternally grateful I was that he saw something in me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, my friend,” Dolenz continued.

However, Rafelson was perhaps best known for his work during the New Hollywood era, which saw a classical studio system giving way to a batch of rebellious young voices and fresh filmmaking styles, and helped usher in talents like Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.

Rafelson directed and co-wrote the 1970 movie Five Easy Pieces about an upper-class pianist who yearns for a more blue-collar life. The film earned Rafelson two Oscar nominations the following year, for best picture and screenplay.

He also directedThe King of Marvin Gardens, about a depressed late-night-radio talk show host, which was released in 1972. Both films starred Jack Nicholson and explored themes of the American dream gone haywire.

The first time Nicholson collaborated with Rafelson, however, dates back to the filmmaker’s Hollywood directorial debut Head which was released in 1968. In a 2019 interview with Esquire, Nicholson said: “I may have thought I started his career but I think he started my career.”

He also produced seminal New Hollywood classics including Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider.

However, his wife Taurek said Rafelson was proudest of the 1990 film titled Mountains of the Moon – a biographical movie that told the story of two explorers, Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, as they searched for the source of the Nile.

Rafelson’s own adventures to places like Morocco, India, southeast Asia, Mexico and Guatemala influenced his work, Taurek said, adding: “He loved nothing more than disappearing into strange pockets of the world.”

Branded “one of the most important cinematic artists of his era” by Coppola, Rafelson was born in New York City on 21 February 1933. He was a distant relative of The Jazz Singer screenwriter Samson Raphaelson who, he said, took an interest in his work.

At Dartmouth, where he studied philosophy, he also became friends with legendary screenwriter Buck Henry.

Rafelson also attended the University of Benaras in India before serving with the US Army in Japan where he developed an interest in Japanese cinema and the films of Yasujiro Ozu – especially Tokyo Story.

Rafelson married his high school sweetheart Toby Carr, a production designer who died in 1973. He got his start in the entertainment business in television, writing for shows like The Witness and The Greatest Show on Earth.

Rafelson left Hollywood two decades ago to focus on raising two sons, Ethan and Harper, with Taurek in Aspen. He also had two children, Peter and Julie, with Carr.

Additional reporting by agencies