Michael Nesmith, singer and guitarist with the Monkees, dies aged 78

<span>Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Michael Nesmith, who achieved global fame as a member of the pop group the Monkees, has died aged 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.”

Nesmith was the group’s guitarist, and also one of its songwriters, for tracks including The Girl I Knew Somewhere, Listen to the Band and Mary, Mary.

With Nesmith alongside Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork, the Monkees had huge hits including US chart-toppers Daydream Believer and I’m a Believer, having been formed for a TV sitcom about a rock’n’roll band. Nesmith successfully auditioned for the role of “Mike” in the show, in October 1965, having begun his music career as a jobbing folk music performer in Los Angeles.

The nature of the Monkees as a manufactured band became something of a millstone for the group, who fractured in the late 1960s following their psychedelic film and album Head (Nesmith contributed the song Circle Sky). Nesmith left in 1970, following Tork’s departure in 1968.

Michael Nesmith playing with the Monkees in 2019.
Michael Nesmith in 2019. Photograph: Brandon Nagy/Rex/Shutterstock

In recent months, he had performed on a reunion tour with the group. Nesmith had avoided the band’s 20th-anniversary reunion in 1986, performing only in his home city of Los Angeles. He only occasionally joined them until a more emphatic reunion in 1996 when the group recorded a new album, Justus. A tour the following year was the last time the quartet played together, before Jones’s death in 2012.

Tork’s death followed in 2019 and Nesmith and Dolenz went on to perform as a duo, in recent months undertaking the Monkees Farewell Tour, which was originally planned for 2020 but was delayed by Covid.

In the wake of the Monkees’ initial split, Nesmith continued with a fruitful career. He formed the country rock group First National Band, which had a hit with Joanne in 1970. His next group, a psych-rock outfit called Second National Band, featured José Feliciano on percussion, and he also released music under his own name, including an acclaimed album of country ballads, And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’ (1972). He continued to occasionally release albums for the rest of his life, most recently The Ocean in 2015.

Other Nesmith-penned songs became hits for other artists, such as Different Drum, a US top 20 hit for the Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt. In 1988, the rap group Run DMC covered Mary, Mary.

He also worked as a music producer, and tended his own spinoff label from Elektra Records, called Countryside. He successfully moved into TV production in the mid-1970s, eventually creating the proto-MTV music video show PopClips, and also had projects in Hollywood: he was executive producer of the satirical sci-fi movie Repo Man, now regarded as one of the key cult films of the 1980s.