In a statement to Rolling Stone, his family said, “With Infinite Love we announce that Michael Nesmith has passed away this morning in his home, surrounded by family, peacefully and of natural causes. 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.”
At the time the Monkees were formed, Nesmith was identifiable as the one in the hat, but his contribution to one of the great, prototypical boy bands went deeper, and included his songwriting on songs like "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" (1967), "Mary, Mary" (1968), and "Listen to the Band" (1969). It was Nesmith's musicality and force of personality that led to the band's members — Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz — rebelling against their producer and seizing control of their creative output by the late '60s.
In 2012, Nesmith said to Rolling Stone of that period, "We were 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."
The group disbanded before 1970, and Nesmith was left deeply in debt for a decade for breaking his contract early.
He went on to display his musical ingenuity with the First National Band, considered a foundational country rock act. He may have been first, but being first can come with heartache — the group was not successful compared to others in the same vein, notably the Eagles, though it scored the #21 hit "Joanne" (1970).
That Monkees pedigree was partly to blame.
Nesmith experienced a creative renaissance beginning in 1980 after the loss of his mother, Liquid Paper creator Bette Nesmith Graham. The fortune he inherited allowed him to pay off his old Monkees debt and to invest in endeavors close to his heart, and his newfound wealth ensured attention from the marketplace. Among other projects, he financed the movies "Repo Man" (1984) and "Tapeheads" (1988).
In the realm of music, he released the groundbreaking short film "Elephant Parts" in 1981, made up of a series of music videos just as the medium was exploding courtesy of MTV. His L.A.-centric "Cruisin'" video, with its absurdist, risqué narrative about Lucy, Ramona and a mythical figure known as Sunset Sam, was a staple of the network in its infancy. "Elephant Parts" won Nesmith to first-ever Video of the Year Award at the Grammys. It also led to his 1985 summer TV series "Michael Nesmith in Television Parts," which featured everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Jerry Seinfeld.
Born in Houston on December 30, 1942, Nesmith lived with his mother after the age of 4, when his parents divorced. He took up songwriting after a stint in the Air Force before being cast as a member of a group in what would become the visually inventive, Emmy-winning comedy series "The Monkees" (1966-1968). The series brought together four strangers in a fictional band that quickly became real.
The group scored four #1 studio albums, one after the other, and enjoyed hit singles with "Last Train to Clarksville" (1966, #1), "I'm a Believer" (1966, #1), "A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You" (1967, #2), "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (1967, #3), "Daydream Believer" (1967, #1), "Valleri" (1968, #3) and others, including the #20 hit "That Was Then, This Is Now" (1986), released well after their initial success.
When the Monkees reunited for a hit album and tours in the '80s, Nesmith was sometimes a part of the festivities, sometimes not, but was there for the band's "Justus" album in 1996, and an abbreviated 1997 tour of the UK — which wound up being the last time all four Monkees worked together.
Beginning in 2012, Nesmith rejoined the Monkees in the wake of singer Davy Jones' sudden death, and was a part of the 50th-anniversary album "Good Times!" in 2016. The surviving three members appeared onstage together for the last time in 2016.
Following Tork's 2019 death, Nesmith and Dolenz embarked upon a tour entitled "The Monkees Present: The Mike and Micky Show." Punctuated by cancellations and postponements due to COVID-19 restrictions, that tour ended less than a month ago, with Nesmith's final time as a Monkee onstage happening November 14, 2021.