Obituary: Music Video Pioneer, Country Rock Legend & Monkees Star Michael Nesmith Dies

Michael Nesmith, the music video pioneer, country music legend and iconic member of 1960s group The Monkees has died at the age of 78.  

Born Robert Michael Nesmith in Huston, Texas on 30 December 1942, Nesmith shot to fame in the TV series The Monkees (1966–1968). Alongside Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones, the aspiring singer-songwriter played a member of a Beatles-style band in the show which had a strong musical element. Nesmith led the creative charge for the quartet to put their musical stamp on the Monkees songs and ultimately bankrupted himself by buying out his own contact in 1970.

Nesmith’s song, Different Drum became a huge hit for by the Stone Poneys and Linda Ronstadt in 1967 and it would be covered by many other artists over the years (he would also record his own version). The musician’s musical taste always veered in the direction of country music and he released a selection of great albums throughout the late ’60s and 70s – and these works would forge the template for the country rock movement. Pushing the boundaries even further, in 1977 Nesmith released the disco-style album, Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma.

A fascination with emerging art forms saw the musician segue into the realm of film and video, and he started developing a series of promotional videos which were the precursor to the music video. Forming Pacific Arts Corporation in 1974, Nesmith produced a groundbreaking video for his 1974 hit Rio (from the album From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing). Then in 1982 he won the first Grammy Award for long-form Music Video for his hour-long series of musical shorts, Elephant Parts. The success of the music video project ultimately led to the creation of MTV. Nesmith would go on to produce the videos for Lionel Richie’s All Night Long in 1983 and Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel in 1987.

The ’80s saw Michael Nesmith move away from music and into film production, producing movies such as the acclaimed cult movie Repo Man and Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann. In the 1990s he returned to music, releasing Tropical Campfires and the groundbreaking book and album combo, The Garden as well as launching his own website, Videoranch. In the 2000s, he would release the albums Rays (2005) and The Ocean (2015).

Michael Nesmith regrouped sporadically with The Monkees over the years and had just finished a series of concerts with Micky Dolenz in 2021. Dolenz released an album of his friends songs titled Dolenz Sings Nesmith that same year. 

On 10 December 2021, a statement from the Nesmith 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.’

Michael Nesmith 1942 – 2021