Michael Nesmith, singer and guitarist for The Monkees, has died at 78

Known to some as the Monkee with the wool cap, he was an acclaimed musician despite the group's "Pre-Fab Four" reputation. And yes, his mom invented Liquid Paper.

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Gael Cooper
3 min read
Monkee Mike Nesmith at a press conference in 1967.

Monkee Mike Nesmith at a press conference in 1967.

Getty Images

Michael Nesmith, singer and guitarist for The Monkees, died Friday at age 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 quoted by Rolling Stone. "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."

The Monkees TV show ran on NBC from 1966 to 1968, and followed the adventures of a struggling rock band. The show won two Emmy Awards and the band became an iconic part of pop culture, producing numerous bestselling albums. Their hits included Last Train to Clarksville, Daydream Believer, and Pleasant Valley Sunday. Nesmith himself wrote many of the group's songs, including Mary, Mary; Listen to the Band; and The Girl I Knew Somewhere.

The Monkees were mockingly dubbed the "Pre-Fab Four," a joke referencing the Beatles' "Fab Four" nickname. Nesmith himself had already started a musical career before being cast in The Monkees. In 1964, he wrote the song Different Drum, which later became a hit for Linda Ronstadt. After the show was canceled, he released solo albums and was instrumental in the early days of music videos. He created a TV show called PopClips in the late 1970s, a precursor to MTV.

Mike Nesmith (behind) and Micky Dolenz perform onstage at LA's Greek Theatre on Nov. 14, 2021, during the final show of The Monkees' "55th Anniversary Farewell Tour"

Mike Nesmith (behind) and Micky Dolenz perform onstage at LA's Greek Theatre on Nov. 14, 2021, during the final show of The Monkees' "55th Anniversary Farewell Tour."

Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

But Nesmith fought back against the belief that he was the band's only real musician.

"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 told Rolling Stone. "Peter (Tork) was a more accomplished player than I by an order of magnitude, Micky (Dolenz) and Davy (Jones) played and sang and danced and understood music. Micky had learned to play drums, and we were quite capable of playing the type of songs that were selected for the show."

Nesmith reportedly wore a wool hat to his audition for The Monkees TV show, and the headwear was written into the role when he was cast. One early TV listing even named the characters as Davy, Micky and Peter, but named Nesmith's character simply as "Wool Hat," noting "he usually wears one." The character's name eventually became Mike.

When he was just 13, Nesmith's mother, Bette, invented the correction fluid that became Liquid Paper, originally calling it "Mistake Out." She sold the company to the Gillette Corporation for $47.5 million in 1979, and her only son inherited the bulk of the money when she died a year later. 

Nesmith's death leaves Dolenz as the only survivor of The Monkees. Jones died in 2012 and Tork in 2019. 

Dolenz tweeted a tribute to his bandmate, writing, "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."

Fans remembered Nesmith online.

"I wish I could accurately convey what The Monkees meant to us kids in the mid-late '60s," wrote James Neibaur. "I can't articulate how much this hurts. I actually cried! Glad he got to tour and say goodbye."

Frank Conniff, comedian and Mystery Science Theater 3000 alum, wrote, "Oh, damn. This is not the time to be losing Monkees. This man was a major talent. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, when are you going to do the right thing and give these national treasures the recognition they deserve? Rest In Peace, Michael Nesmith."