Obituary: Mike Nesmith, in woolen hat in The Monkees, songwriter and heir to a fortune in stationery

Mike Nesmith, who died at the age of 78, was the wool-hat guitarist of the 1960s American pop group The Monkees. He went on to have a minor solo music career, set up a multimedia company to produce films and videos, before inheriting a multi-million dollar fortune from his mother.

f of the 437 candidates auditioning for the roles of “Crazy Four Boys, ages 17-21” in 1965, Nesmith was cast, along with former children’s television star Mickey Dolenz; singer and guitarist Peter Tork; and a young Manchester actor, Davy Jones, who had played the grandson of Ena Sharples in Coronation Street.

Strictly speaking, at 22, Nesmith (characterized as the calmest and most serious of the four) was a bit too old, as were Tork (the most sensitive), while Dolenz (the funny one) was 20 and Jones ( cutest) was the youngest at 19. But The Monkees – the first pop group to be made specifically for television – seemed to appeal to the target audience of young teenage producers, especially girls.

Promoted by production company Screen Gems, the spotlessly clean band was designed to recreate the hugely successful The Beatles and the wacky vibe depicted in their 1964 feature film. A hard day’s Night. Mocked by some like “the pre-fab four,” The Monkees aired on BBC1 on Saturday nights, but their prime-time show’s spot did not meet universal approval.

“See it once and you’ve seen it all,” one reviewer muttered.

The Monkees’ debut single, ‘Last Train To Clarksville’, was their first hit – but Nesmith was not happy with the choice of the sequel, ‘I’m A Believer,’ which was written by up and coming Neil Diamant. “I’m a songwriter,” Nesmith complained, “and it’s not a hit.”


Michael Nesmith, left, with fellow Monkees Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz

Michael Nesmith, left, with fellow Monkees Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz

In fact, he rose to number one on both sides of the Atlantic, leading the Irish rankings at the start of 1967.

Nesmith, the most accomplished musician of the four, led the others to counter criticism that they did not play instruments they wore on television, and the group insisted on making their own records.

They had a handful of other Top 20 hits – including “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and “Daydream Believer” written by other writers on Screen Gems’ list – before the series was withdrawn in 1968.

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Although the band sold around 100 million records, the breakup was unpleasant – and costly. Nesmith blamed “a lot of infighting” and “just strange wrongdoing”. The revenue he thought he owed was wiped out after Peter Tork’s solo album went over budget, and the producers of Screen Gems demanded others foot the six-figure bill.

Nesmith escaped from the group losing future royalties amounting to $ 160,000.

He then reinvented himself as a solo artist and reluctantly joined the group for a few years on “reunion” tours.

The other three Monkees toured Britain in 2011 without him, although he was teased by his name. If the audience weren’t singing, Micky Dolenz announced early at their concert in Liverpool that they would be forced into a Nesmith lookalike contest. “A fate worse than death,” Peter Tork muttered.

Nesmith was scheduled to embark on a solo UK tour in 2014, but withdrew, citing “recent issues” and “privacy concerns”.

Robert Michael Nesmith was born December 30, 1942 in Houston, Texas. His parents divorced when he was four, and his mother Bette took him to Dallas, where she held a series of office jobs before becoming secretary to the president of a Texas bank. Incompetent typist, in 1955, after evenings experimenting in her kitchen blender, she invented a typewriter correction fluid called Liquid Paper, an early version of Tipp-ex.

During this time, Michael enrolled in Thomas Jefferson High School, joined the choir and drama club, but in 1960 enlisted in the US Air Force. Stationed in Oklahoma, he received an honorable discharge in 1962.

At just 19, Nesmith attended San Antonio College, playing folk music and writing songs (one, “Different Drum”, would be successfully recorded by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponies and later the Lemonheads).

Moving to Los Angeles, he heard about auditions for a new TV series featuring a pop group and was chosen as a guitarist. Unlike the other three Monkees, he already had a wide musical range as an instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and performer.

As a group, the Monkees were prohibited from playing their own instruments on their first records, although the producers eventually gave in. After the breakup, Nesmith became a country-rock artist and formed the First National Band, with whom he had an American Top 40 hit, “Joanne” (1970).

But a few years later he was on the low seas. In 1973, after redeeming himself from the Monkees, he sent his butler and limo driver back to England and admitted he was broke.


Mike Nesmith of the Monkees at a press conference at the Royal Garden Hotel in London on June 29, 1967. Photo by Evening Standard / Hulton Archive / Getty

Mike Nesmith of the Monkees at a press conference at the Royal Garden Hotel in London on June 29, 1967. Photo by Evening Standard / Hulton Archive / Getty

Mike Nesmith of the Monkees at a press conference at the Royal Garden Hotel in London on June 29, 1967. Photo by Evening Standard / Hulton Archive / Getty

In the mid-1970s, Nesmith launched the Pacific Arts Company, which released records, cassettes and, in 1981, “video recordings”. In 1983, he produced the music video for Lionel Richie’s single “All Night Long”. He was also executive producer of the film Man rest.

His business closed after acrimonious legal dispute with PBS over home video licensing rights for Ken Burn’s documentary series Civil war.

Although a jury awarded Nesmith and his company nearly $ 49 million in damages, PBS appealed the decision, but ultimately paid a confidential amount to Nesmith and Pacific Arts before the appeal was made. be heard.

It was not his first setback. In 1979, Nesmith’s mother sold her Liquid Paper Corporation to Gillette for $ 48 million, and when she died the following year, aged 56, Nesmith inherited half of her estate. When his then middle-aged former fellow Monkees gathered in London for a tour of the UK in March 1989, Nesmith stayed at home.

In 1997 he relented and, along with the other three Monkees, toured briefly. This was the last appearance of the four performing together (Davy Jones died in 2012).

He was a notable exponent of the 12-string guitar, playing a custom-made electric Gretsch during his years with the Monkees and various 12-string acoustic models thereafter. His autobiography, Infinite Tuesday: an autobiographical riff, published in 2017.

Peter Tork died in 2019 and the following year Nesmith toured the United States with Mickey Dolenz playing mostly Monkees hits.

Michael Nesmith has married three times. First, in 1964, to Phyllis Barbour, whom he met at San Antonio College. They had two sons and a daughter before divorcing in 1972. In 1976 he married Kathryn Bild, and third, in 2000, Victoria Kennedy – but these marriages also ended in divorce. Nesmith also had a son, born in 1968 to Nurit Wilde, whom he met while working on monkeys TV show.

© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021

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