Monkees lead singer and bassist Peter Tork died on Feb. 21, 2019 at the age of 77 years old. The news was verified by his sister Anne Thorkelson in the Washington Post. No cause of death was given, but Tork was diagnosed with rare tongue cancer in 2009.
Tork wrote an article in the Washington Post after he began treatment in 2009 for adenoid cystic carcinoma. After being diagnosed, he was able to continue with his musical career and participated in reunion concerts with the Monkees. His last show was in 2016. Tork also recorded multiple solo blues albums, the last “Relax Your Mind” being released in 2018.
The band Monkees were a manufactured, American version trying to emulate the Beatles, primarily geared for a television audience. The only musicians in the band were Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith who performed in rock and folk bands in the early 60s. Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones were child actors and had no musical experience.
The Monkees television show started in 1966 and was a huge success, winning an Emmy for outstanding comedy series. The Washington Post reported in 1967 the Monkees sold 35 million albums, with hit songs such as “Last Train To Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” and “Daydream Believer.”
The band’s early material was written by songwriters including; Neil Sedaka, Carole King, Neil Diamond, Tommy Boyce, and Bobby Hart. Even though the band has five Top 10 albums and six Top 10 songs, the band was considered unoriginal.
Detractors of the band said the band was fake. The Monkees, while appearing on their album covers and were shown performing on television, they did not play live and instruments were unplugged. The band’s songs were all recorded by session musicians.
After the band’s release of “More of the Monkees” in 1967, Tork performed and wrote the songs on their albums “Headquarters” and “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.”
Tork left the band in 1968 after the release of the band’s movie “Head” which failed. Jack Nicholson co-wrote the film’s screenplay.
For much of the 70s, Tork taught in a high school and worked as a waiter after he used up all the money he earned working with the Monkees. He also struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. In 1972 he was caught with hashish and sent to prison for several months. Tork became clean in the early 80s.
In the mid-80s, Tork returned to playing with the Monkees at reunion tours, and as a solo artist.
Tork previous marriages Barbara Iannoli, Reine Stewart, and Judy Babb ended in divorce. He is survived by his current wife Pamela Grapes, daughters, Hallie and Erica and son Ivan.
Written by Barbara Sobel
Variety: Peter Tork of the Monkees Dies at 77
The Washington Post: Peter Tork, endearingly offbeat bassist and singer in the Monkees, dies at 77
Daily Mail: Monkees bassist Peter Tork dies at 77 after being diagnosed with rare tongue cancer 10 years ago
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