Peter Tork, a talented singer-songwriter and instrumentalist whose musical skills were often overshadowed by his role as the goofy, lovable bass guitarist in the made-for-television rock band The Monkees, has died at 77.
Tork’s son Ivan Iannoli said his father died Thursday at the family home in Connecticut of complications from adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the salivary glands. He had battled the disease since 2009.
Tork, who was often hailed as the band’s best musician, had studied music since childhood. He was accomplished on guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, banjo and other instruments, and Michael Nesmith, the Monkees’ lead guitarist, said Tork was the better of the two.
He had been playing in small clubs in Los Angeles when a friend and fellow musician, Steven Stills, told him TV casting directors were looking for “four insane boys” to play members of a struggling rock band.
When “The Monkees” debuted in September 1966, Tork and fellow Monkees Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones became overnight teen idols.
Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider modeled the show after the Beatles’ popular musical comedies “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!,” seeking to create a band that would mirror them in cheekiness if not musical talent.
Tork said he adopted his “dummy” persona from the way he’d get audiences to engage with him at Greenwich Village folk clubs in the early 1960s.
During its two-year run, “The Monkees” would win an Emmy for outstanding comedy series, and the group would land seven songs in Billboard’s Top 10. “I’m a Believer,” “Daydream Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville,” would reach No. 1.
Later albums included the solo work “Stranger Things Have Happened” and the Shoe Suede Blues albums “Cambria Hotel,” “Step By Step” and Relax Your Mind.”