Mike Nesmith was a guitar player and writer of popular songs who was a member of the 1960s pop rock band “The Monkees.” The Monkees television show, which ran from 1966 to 1968, was a situation comedy series about a band that wanted to be The Beatles, but could not match their success. In reality, for a short time The Monkees did become as famous as The Beatles. They won an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy and had several number one Billboard chart songs, such as “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” and “I’m a Believer.” They sold 75 million records, which made them one of the biggest-selling groups of all time.
The band included Nesmith on guitar, Peter Tork on bass, Mickey Dolenz on drums and Davy Jones as singer and percussionist. The members of the band were asked to work day and night and got very little sleep. They had to work long hours for the weekly television show, go on tours as a band, and produce best-selling records. For a few years they were incredibly successful, and fans treated them the same way they treated The Beatles. The constant pressure on them took its toll as they fired two of their managers and the television series ended after only two years, but their fans remained loyal to the present day.
After The Monkees television show was cancelled, Peter Tork told the group he was exhausted and quit by buying out the last four years of his contract at $150,000 per year (equal to a million dollars today). After Tork left, the band broke up and reassembled several times. They did keep on producing hit records, appeared on most of the top musical television shows and continued the grueling job of touring in which they ride a bus to get to their next performance during the day, perform most of the night and then ride the bus again through the night. They did four major tours in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and 2018.
The tension of working so many hours and sleeping so little left its mark on all the band members. Of the four members of the original Monkees, drummer Micky Dolenz is the only one still alive today. Davy Jones died of a heart attack at age 66 (2012) with a marijuana-like chemical in his system, Peter Tork died at age 77 after a 10-year bout of adenoid cystic carcinoma of the salivary glands, and now Michael Nesmith has died of heart failure at age 78.
Early Life and Career in Music
Nesmiith was born in Houston, Texas, in 1942 as the only child of parents who divorced when he was four. He stayed with his mother who did not marry again until 1962. She was extremely competent and eventually became executive secretary at Texas Bank and Trust. When Nesmith was 13, his mother invented the typewriter correction fluid known today as “Liquid Paper” and sold it 25 years later in 1979 to Gillette for $48 million. She died a few months after that at age 56, and left most of her money to her son. He was an average high school student and left school before graduation to enlist in the U.S. Air Force, where he became an aircraft mechanic. At age 20, he was honorably discharged from the Air Force and went to San Antonio College, where he won the first San Antonio College talent award for writing several original songs. He then moved to Los Angeles where he earned a living by singing songs in restaurants and night clubs. At age 23, he auditioned for, and won the role, as the wool-hat-wearing guitar player “Mike” in a new television show, The Monkees, which was a huge hit for two years.
About The Monkees Television Show
• The show was based on the film A Hard Day’s Night (1964) starring The Beatles.
• The NBC producers of the planned show placed an ad in Variety Magazine and they interviewed 437 applicants.
• Michael Nesmith was the only member of the cast who was recruited by that advertisement. “Screen Gems”, a show contractor, insisted that their actor, Davy Jones, be one of the four stars. Micky Dolenz’s agent got him an audition, and Peter Tork was recruited by his friend Stephen Stills.
• The television producers picked each of the four members of the new band, “The Monkees,” by how they looked and acted, not by their musical ability.
• All of The Monkees could sing, but two were hired as actors and two as musicians.
• Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz were the only ones who had previous acting experience.
• The four Monkees were given a six-week course in acting for television and they rehearsed and recorded as a band during the spring and early summer of 1966, with instruments rented for them by Screen Gems.
• In their first two albums, only Peter Tork played his musical instrument. The other three only pretended to play instruments, but they did sing. In their third album, “Headquarters,” they sang and played instruments on every track.
• Each of the four Monkees were paid $450 per show for the first season and $750 for the second season.
• After the first season, Davy Jones disappeared. He had received a draft notice, fasted for three weeks, and made himself so sick that he failed his physical exam.
• After two seasons, the four Monkees wanted to extend the show from a half to a full hour and change the format to a variety show with lots of guest artists. However, NBC executives refused and as a result, the show was cancelled.
• The Monkees band officially broke up in 1970, two years after NBC cancelled the television show. Peter Tork left the show and group in 1968. Michael Nesmith paid to leave the show and group in 1969. Davy Jones left to start a solo career.
• The re-united members of The Monkees continued to tour and record albums right up to 2018 when they recorded “Christmas Party” which reached number three on Billboard.
Michael Nesmith’s Health and Death
Only limited information is available on Nesmith’s health.
• In the 1970s, Nesmith followed several health gurus and tried LSD. He claims that he took drugs only a few times.
• In 2007, at age 65, he suddenly was unable to walk and use his hands. He was a Christian Scientist, but went to several physicians who told him that they did not know the cause, they could not cure him and they thought it would not kill him, so he treated himself by following his Christian Scientist teachings. He said, “I spent hours daily in painless study and prayer and contemplation. Slowly I saw some normalcy return, and as I got my movement back in my hand, I was able to get up and move around.” I do not know the cause of his temporary paralysis, but common causes of paralysis include strokes, spinal cord injuries and nerve disorders like multiple sclerosis and Guillain Barre.
• In 2018, at age 76, he developed severe shortness of breath in the high altitude of Denver. He told Rolling Stone, “I couldn’t get out of bed and I couldn’t breathe.” He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and cancelled four scheduled concert appearances. He received quadruple bypass heart surgery and was hospitalized for more than a month.
• In 2021, at age 78, he started a tour in which he could only perform sitting down. He could stand only with a cane and after three weeks into the tour, he was able to stand for his entire show. Their final show at the Greek Theater was attended by 5,000 people
• On December 10, 2021, at age 78, he died from heart failure at his home in Carmel Valley, California. Several news reports stated that family members said he died from natural causes.
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure is a disease in which the heart becomes too weak to pump enough oxygen to the brain, so a person stops breathing and dies from lack of oxygen. This can be caused by anything that weakens the heart. The most common cause is inactivity. Nesmith was very inactive after his unexplained paralysis. Heart damage can also be caused by blocked arteries leading to the heart, which we know Nesmith suffered because he had quadruple bypass surgery. Blocked arteries can be caused by a pro-inflammatory diet, lack of exercise, paralysis, and possibly from earlier use of recreational drugs. It can also be caused by different infections, but we have no data on him for that. Most cases of heart attacks and heart failure are caused by lifestyle factors that can be changed if a person is sufficiently motivated to do so. See Lifestyle Changes to Help Prevent Heart Attacks
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com