Singer-songwriter Michael Nesmith, who shot to fame in the mid-1960s as a member of the Monkees and would later inspire the rise of the 1980s music video era, died Friday at the age of 78 from natural causes.

Singer-songwriter Michael Nesmith, who shot to fame in the mid-1960s as a member of the Monkees and would later inspire the rise of the 1980s music video era, died Friday at the age of 78 from natural causes.

An Unlikely Star: Nesmith was born in Houston on December 30, 1942. His parents divorced when he was four and his mother, Bette Nesmith, took several temporary jobs to support herself and her son. While working as an executive secretary at a bank, she invented a typewriter correction fluid that she patented and marketed as Liquid Paper.

She became of the most prominent women entrepreneurs of the 1960s and 1970s before selling her Liquid Paper Corporation to Gillette in 1979 for $48 million. Nesmith's mother died shortly afterward and he inherited her fortune, which would later enable him to finance multiple business initiatives.

Nesmith dropped out of high school to enlist in the Air Force in 1960, and received his GED by the time has discharged in 1962. He relocated to Los Angeles to seek a music career, briefly going by the name Michael Blessed.

Nesmith successfully auditioned in 1965 for “The Monkees,” a sitcom about a struggling rock band. During the audition, he offered a nonchalant attitude that was different from the other humble actors seeking a role — at one point, his plopped his feet on the producer’s desk — and he made an eccentric fashion statement by wearing a green wool hat to the audition to keep his hair out of his eyes. The headwear became his character’s trademark.

Nesmith was paired with British theater performer Davy Jones, folk music singer-songwriter Peter Tork and former child actor Micky Dolenz as the Monkees. While the four performers possessed music abilities, they were not permitted by music producer Don Kirshner to play the instruments on the early records released under the Monkees brand.

“The Monkees” quickly became a popular television show, mixing zany slapstick with musical interludes. Nesmith penned several of the songs featured on the show, though his country-flavored tunes did not find much favor with Kirshner, who refused to release Nesmith’s compositions as singles.

Decline And Reinvention: To the surprise of the show’s producers, the four performers hired for the show quickly united into a demanding force. They successfully had Kirshner fired and sought creative control over their recordings and the television show.

When word was leaked to the media that they did not play the instruments on their earlier records, they did extensive concert touring that showed they were more than capable of handling their instruments. Nesmith also began to display more versatility as a songwriter, creating the avant-garde psychedelic work “Daily Nightly” (the first song to feature a Moog synthesizer) and the hard-rocking “Circle Sky,” which many music critics cite as being among the band’s finest works.

While the Monkees quickly attracted a global fan base – including the Beatles, who invited them to the recording sessions for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” – behind-the-scenes friction with their producers derailed their stardom. “The Monkees” lasted two seasons on NBC before being canceled when the quartet and their network were unable to reach consensus on the contents for a third season. The foursome ventured into feature films with the psychedelic experimental production “Head” that was co-written by Jack Nicholson, but the film was a commercial failure. Tork quit the group in early 1969 after a poorly received television special and Nesmith followed his exit in 1970.

As a solo performer, Nesmith was able to explore the country-style music that he preferred while experimenting with different recording concepts. He created a country-rock group called First National Band and had a minor hit with “Joanne” in 1970, and scored another minor hit in 1977 as a solo artist with “Rio.” Nesmith also gained praise for the 1974 release “The Prison: A Book with a Soundtrack,” which included a 48-page book that was meant to be read while the album played like a soundtrack to the text.

During the 1970s, Nesmith pursued multimedia endeavors. He launched Pacific Arts Video in 1974 as one of the first major independent labels in the nascent home video industry, and a video clip he produced for “Rio” inspired his television show “PopClips,” which debuted on the Nickelodeon cable television channel. He sold “PopClips” in 1980 to TimeWarner/Amex, which expanded its standalone music video show into the 24/7 MTV network.

Nesmith won the first Grammy Award for Long-Form Music Video in 1982 for the hour-long “Elephant Parts.” He also produced and hosted the 1985 NBC series “Michael Nesmith in Television Parts,” which introduced audience to little-known comics including Whoopi Goldberg, Arsenio Hall, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and Garry Shandling. He also served as executive producer on several films including the cult classics “Repo Man” and “Tapeheads.”

Monkee Mania Revived: “The Monkees” found a new audience and reconnected with their older fans in the mid-1980s when MTV began to rerun the series. Jones, Tork and Dolenz reunited for concert appearances, but Nesmith avoided making a full-throttle reunion and would show up very occasionally for a performance. He eventually reunited with more vigor in 1996 with the release of a new album called “Justus” and a television special that he directed, but otherwise focused on his solo projects.

After Jones died in 2012, Nesmith teamed with Tork and Dolenz for a reunion tour. Tork passed away in 2019, and Nesmith and Dolenz continued performing together under the Monkees banner, with their farewell tour ending Nov. 14 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. 

While many people consider the Monkees to be an essential part of the 1960s pop culture, there are still some who view them as being little more than a prefabricated flash-in-the-pan. Unlike many of their 1960s peers, the group has never been inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame.

And there was one career insult that Nesmith never quite forgave or forgot: when “The Monkees” producers rejected his request to record a song he wrote called “Different Drum.”

As bandmate Dolenz recalled in a 2016 Rolling Stone interview, the show’s producers “said to him, ‘That’s not a Monkees song.’ Michael said. ‘Wait a minute, I am one of the Monkees.’ He gave it to Linda Ronstadt, and the rest is history.”

Photo: Michael Nesmith in a scene from "The Monkees." Courtesy of Screen Gems.