WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.: Davy Jones, the heartthrob singer who helped propel the made-for-TV rock band the Monkees to the top of the pop charts as an American version of the Beatles, died Wednesday. He was 66.
His publicist, Helen Kensick, confirmed Jones died of a heart attack in Indiantown, where he had lived. Jones complained of breathing troubles early in the morning and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, said Rhonda Irons of the Martin County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s spokeswoman said there were no suspicious circumstances.
Born in Manchester, England, Jones had stylishly long hair, boyish good looks and a British accent that endeared him to legions of screaming young fans after The Monkees premiered on CBS in 1966.
Aspirations of Beatles-like fame were never fully achieved, however, as the TV show lasted just two years. But the Monkees made rock ‘n roll history as the band galvanized a wide American following with love-struck hits such as Daydream Believer and I’m a Believer that endure even today.
Jones was born on Dec. 30, 1945, and became a child star in his native England who appeared on television and stage, including a heralded role as The Artful Dodger in the play Oliver.
He earned a Tony nomination at 16 when he reprised that role in the show’s Broadway production, a success that brought him to the attention of Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems Television, which created the Monkees.
The show, clearly patterned on the Beatle’s film A Hard Days Night, chronicled the comic trials and tribulations of a rock group whose four members lived together and traveled to gigs in a tricked-out car called the Monkeemobile. Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz starred with him. Each part was loosely patterned after one of the Beatles, with Jones in the Paul McCartney role for the Monkees.
The first single, Last Train to Clarksville, became a No. 1 hit. And the show caught on with audiences, featuring fast-paced, helter-skelter comedy inspired as much by the Marx Brothers as the Beatles.
It was a shrewd case of cross-platform promotion. As David Bianculli noted in his Dictionary of Teleliteracy, “The show’s self-contained music videos, clear forerunners of MTV, propelled the group’s first seven singles to enviable positions of the pop charts: three number ones, two number twos, two number threes.”
At 5-feet-3, Jones was by far the shortest member of the group — a fact often made light of on the show. But with his youthful good looks, he was also the group’s heartthrob. And with the pronounced accent that he never lost, Jones was in some ways the Monkees’ direct connection to Beatlemania, which was still sweeping the United States when the television show The Monkees debuted.
Yet after the show’s launch, The Monkees came under fire from music critics when it was learned that session musicians — and not the group’s members — had played the musical instruments on their recordings. They were derided as the “Prefab Four,” an insulting comparison to the Beatles’ nickname, the “Fab Four.”
In reality, Jones could play the drums and guitar, and although Dolenz learned to play the drums after he joined the group, he could also play guitar, as could Nesmith.
Nesmith also wrote several of The Monkees’ songs, as well as songs for others. Tork, who played bass and keyboards on the TV show was a multi-instrumentalist.
The group eventually prevailed over the show’s producers, including music director Don Kirchner, and began to play their own instrumentals. Regardless, the group was supported by enviable talent.
Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday, and Neil Diamond penned I’m a Believer. Musicians who played on their records included Billy Preston, who later played with the Beatles, Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, Ry Cooder and Neil Young.
The group also released the 1968 film Head, derided at the time as a psychedelic mishmash notable only for an appearance by Jack Nicholson. It has since come to be considered a cult classic by Monkees fans.
After two seasons, the TV series had flared out and was cancelled after 58 episodes in the summer of 1968. But the Monkees remained a nostalgia act for decades.
After the TV show ended, Jones continued to tour with the other Monkees for a time, sometimes playing the drums at concerts when Dolenz came up front to sing.
Many also remember Jones from a widely seen episode of The Brady Bunch that aired in 1971, in which he makes an appearance at Marcia Brady’s school dance. In the episode, Marcia Brady, president of her school’s Davy Jones Fan Club, promised she could get him to appear before her classmates.
The group eventually broke up over creative differences, although it did reunite from time to time for brief tours over the years, usually without Nesmith.
In 1987, Jones, Tork, and Dolenz recorded a new album, Pool It. And two years later, the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
All four, however, came together for a 1996 album, Justus, and a subsequent TV movie Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees! that saw them still living in the same house and still traveling in the Monkeemobile — just like old times.
Jones, who is survived by his wife Jessica, continued to make appearances on television and stage later. But it was the fame of the Monkees that pulled him back to that era time and time again. On his website, he recalled during auditions for the show when all four men finally were put together in a scene.
“That’s it,” he recalled everyone around him saying: “Magic.”
Associated Press writers Nekesa Mumbi Moody and Frazier Moore in New York and John Rogers in Los Angeles contributed to this report.