For a musician whose commercial peak came more than 50 years ago, Michael Nesmith had a rousing swan song.
The singer and guitarist for the Monkees died Friday of heart failure at his home in California. He was 78.
Only weeks earlier, Nesmith was performing before thousands of adoring fans on a Monkees farewell tour that appeared to give him new strength in the final months of his life.
“He started to see it (the Monkees’ music) more through the eyes of his fans, of how they loved it. And that was bringing him a lot of joy at the end of his life,” said Nesmith’s manager Andrew Sandoval, in an interview with Variety after his death.
“Their joy was coming back on him. He finally really felt that, and it lit him up, you know?”
The Monkees – Nesmith, drummer Micky Dolenz, singer Davy Jones and keyboardist and bassist Peter Tork – were conceived in 1965 for a TV show and produced a string of hits over the next several years, including “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer,” written by Neil Diamond.
They split up in 1970 but reunited off and on afterward for recordings and tours. Jones died in 2012, followed by Tork in 2019.
Sandoval said Nesmith and Dolenz, the other surviving Monkees member, had planned to do a farewell tour in 2020 but postponed it because of Covid-19. When they began tour preparations this fall, Sandoval said, Nesmith was frail – he had battled heart problems for years – and missed the first several days of rehearsals.
“He was fearful that he couldn’t make it — and we were all fearful whether we would get sick and die from Covid on this tour,” Sandoval told Variety. “But ultimately it was his desire to want to do it that pushed myself and Micky and the band and the crew to go through with it, because we knew we didn’t have that much time with him — that we couldn’t postpone it again.”
When the tour kicked off in September, Nesmith could only perform sitting down, Sandoval said. Then he was able to stand with the help of a cane. And then, about two or three weeks into the tour, he began standing for the entire length of almost every show.
“So he gained a lot of strength from the audience and from performing,” Sandoval said. “Lockdown had been tough on him, because he couldn’t go many places, and he had sort of atrophied. So there was a real renewal with the tour. It was a great celebration for him, to do what he had done in the past, and do it really well.”
The Monkees’ tour wrapped on November 14 in Los Angeles. There were plans for the surviving band members to perform a few makeup dates and on an oldies cruise next year, but Sandoval said they were scrapped when Nesmith’s health declined.
“His final show at the Greek Theatre was before 5,000 people, and it was joy. So it was a very successful tour,” he added. “He really went out on top, as far as that’s concerned.
“And for the people who got to commune with them one last time, I think it’s going to be a beautiful memory.”