Former Monkees Star Michael Nesmith Dead at 78

Michael Nesmith wrote and performed some of the Monkees' biggest hits

Mike Nesmith
Michael Nesmith. Photo: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty

Michael Nesmith, a singer-songwriter known for his time as the green wool hat-wearing member of the Monkees, has died. He was 78.

Nesmith died of heart failure on Friday in Carmel Valley, California, a rep for the star confirms to PEOPLE.

"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 told Rolling Stone 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."

A native of Texas, Nesmith wrote many popular songs for the television pop-rock group, including "Mary, Mary," "Circle Sky," "Listen to the Band" and "The Girl I Knew Somewhere." He also had a 1970 hit on his own with "Joanne," which he recorded with his post-Monkees project the First National Band.

After joining the Monkees in 1965, Nesmith told Rolling Stone in 2012 that he was never quite as fond of his time with the band as frontman Davy Jones was, referring to Jones as the leading man and him and his other groupmates, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz, as the "side men."

"It was nonstop from the moment the show aired, so there was a constant hyper-interest in the group of us," he said of living life under a microscope during the band's peak. "The meter was maxxed and stayed that way for a couple of years."

Michael Nesmith
Michael Nesmith. Bobby Bank/WireImage

Dolenz, 76, told PEOPLE in a statement Friday, "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, Mick"

Nesmith was also known for the way in which he fought for the Monkees to be able to write and record their own material, and helped push the group against record producer Don Kirshner in 1967 to allow them more creative control over what music they put out.

Still, he told RS that he never considered himself "frustrated" by the band's early creative restraints, just "confused."

"All of us shared the desire to play the songs we were singing. Everyone was accomplished — the notion I was the only musician is one of those rumors that got started and won't stop — but it was not true," he said. "We were also kids with our own taste in music and were happier performing songs we liked — and/or wrote — than songs that were handed to us. It made for a better performance. It was more fun. That this became a bone of contention seemed strange to me, and I think to some extent to each of us — sort of "what's the big deal — why won't you let us play the songs we are singing?"

He noted that their decision to exercise more control was supported by producers, and that they couldn't have "fought the battles we did" without their explicit support.

Monkees manager Andrew Sandoval paid tribute to Nesmith in a statement shared to Facebook, in which he expressed his "deep sadness," but also gratitude that the musician had been able to tour in his final months alongside Dolenz.

"That tour was a true blessing for so many. And in the end I know that Michael was at peace with his legacy which included songwriting, producing, acting, direction and so many innovative ideas and concepts," he wrote. "Nez expressed the highest part of his being through his voice. And you could get no closer to him th[a]n through knowing his work. May all those who loved him feel his comfort at this time - just listen and he will be there for you."

When the Monkees went their separate ways, Nesmith formed the First National Band, a country-rock outfit that he said emerged out of an "odd spiral."

"I didn't really have a lot that was motivating me at the time," he told REBEAT magazine of the group's early releases. "I was kind of floating along and just singing whatever song popped into my head. But I didn't have a focal point — I didn't have the same focal point, that is, the First National Band."

Michael Nesmith
The Monkees. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Nesmith said that he experienced "real pushback" from anti-Monkees fans after the group went their separate ways, and struggled to keep his career afloat.

"I just couldn't get work, and nobody wanted to come and hear me sing my music, especially when people said, "He's singing country songs these days,'" he said. "They start thinking about George Jones driving his lawnmower to the liquor store.

By 1980, he was able to reinvent himself once more following the death of his mother, Liquid Paper inventor Bette Nesmith Graham, who left him a substantial fortune that he then invested into business ventures and movies like Repo Man and Tapeheads, according to Rolling Stone.

In recent years, Nesmith appeared with the group for a series of reunion tours and the LP Good Times!

Though Jones died in 2012 and Tork in 2019, Nesmith and Dolenz embarked on a two-month farewell tour that ended in mid-November.

Nesmith told REBEAT that while he was "semi-retired," he still enjoyed playing music and touring.

"The music just lifts me up. It's what makes life worth living these days, playing live music," he said. "It's something I'd never thought I'd say, because I never did enjoy it that much, but this is really a good time."

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