Monkees' singer/songwriter Michael Nesmith dead at 78

Mike Nesmith in 1967
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Monkees singer/songwriter and guitarist Michael Nesmith 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,” said his family 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 born in Texas in 1942, and turned to songwriting after serving a tour of duty in the airforce. He wrote Different Drum (later a hit for Linda Ronstadt) in 1964 and Mary, Mary, a pro-Marijuana ditty later recorded by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band

From 1965 to early 1970 Nesmith was a member a The Monkees, and in 1967 led the band's rebellion against their manufactured, made-for-TV image, breaking ties with impresario Don Kirshner and creating an environment where the Headquarters album could be recorded. For the first time, the band could play and record their own songs, rather than using provided material and session musicians. 

He continued writing songs during his time with The Monkees, but held much of the material back for other projects, including three albums by The First National Band, the pioneering country rock band whose debut album, Magnetic South, is considered by many to be a minor masterpiece.    

Nesmith continued to record and release his own music and produce others – in 1977 he had an international hit with Rio – and made sporadic live appearances with other members of The Monkees. In 1995, he joined the other members in the studio to record the comeback album Justus, and two years later wrote and directed the TV special Hey, Hey, It's the Monkees.  

After the death of fellow Monkee Davy Jones in 2012, the remaining members of the band (Nesmith, plus Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork), toured regularly, although Nesmith did not take part in the band's 50th anniversary tour in 2016, apart from filling in for Tork at two shows.

In 2018 Nesmith was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery. 

"It’s frightening," he told Rolling Stone. "There’s also a lot of pain involved and I didn’t like that. You can’t cough and you can’t walk and you can’t get up. And you’re hooked to these gadgets that are annoying. I didn’t even know where I was for a couple of weeks.”

“I feel like I’m increasing exponentially daily, or at least by orders of five or six percent at a time. I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. My thinking is clear and I know who I am and where I am. It all feels like a natural healing process."

Tork died in 2019, and the remaining pair – Nesmith and Dolenz – announced a farewell tour earlier this year. The final show took place in Los Angeles last month.

Today, Dolenz tweeted, "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, Micky." 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.