Peter Tork, the blues and folk musician who shot to stardom in 1966 as a member of the Monkees, has died at the age of 77. The news was first announced on a message posted to his Facebook page on Thursday morning. His sister, Anne Thorkelson, also confirmed his death to multiple outlets. Though the precise cause of death is unknown at the present time, in 2009 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma, which affected his tongue.
“It is with beyond-heavy and broken hearts that we share the devastating news that our friend, mentor, teacher, and amazing soul, Peter Tork, has passed from this world,” begins the statement shared by “Peter’s friends, family and colleagues” on his Facebook page.
“We want to thank each and every one of you for your love, dedication and support of our “boss.” Having you in our world has meant so very much to all of us. Please know that Peter was extremely appreciative of you, his Torkees, and one of his deepest joys was to be out in front of you, playing his music, and seeing you enjoy what he had to share.”
Added bandmate Micky Dolenz, “There are no words right now…heart broken over the loss of my Monkee brother, Peter Tork.”
“Just got the news that Peter died. I am heartbroken,” Mike Nesmith posted to Facebook.
“I am told he slipped away peacefully,” he added in a longer message a short time later. “Yet, as I write this my tears are awash, and my heart is broken. Even though I am clinging to the idea that we all continue, the pain that attends these passings has no cure. It’s going to be a rough day. I share with all Monkees fans this change, this ‘loss,’ even so. PT will be a part of me forever. I have said this before — and now it seems even more apt — the reason we called it a band is because it was where we all went to play. A band no more — and yet the music plays on — an anthem to all who made the Monkees and the TV show our private — dare I say ‘secret’ — playground.”
Nesmith concluded, “As for Pete, I can only pray his songs reach the heights that can lift us and that our childhood lives forever — that special sparkle that was the Monkees. I will miss him — a brother in arms. Take flight my Brother.”
Despite his ditzy persona on the television show, Tork boasted formidable music credentials. Born Peter Thorkelson on Feb. 13, 1942 in Washington D.C. he cut his teeth as a multi-instrumentalist in the early ’60s Greenwich Village folk scene that fostered the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Stephen Stills. It was through Stills that he inadvertently got his big break. When the future CSNY guitarist was turned down for a part in The Monkees television show — apparently because his teeth were crooked — the producers asked if they knew anyone who looked like him. He suggested Tork, with whom he shared a striking resemblance.
He nabbed the part, and by the mid-’60s he was on his way to stardom alongside Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones. While the band was initially a strictly studio enterprise engineered for the television series, Tork would later help pen some of their songs, including “For Pete’s Sake,” later used as the show’s closing credits during the second season.
Tork was a fixture in the hip Laurel Canyon artists scene, and was even tapped by George Harrison to record on his 1968 soundtrack album, Wonderwall. He would ultimately feel restricted by the confines of the Monkees, and became the first to leave the group in 1969.
The following decade marked a transition period for Tork as he sought to find his own place in a changing musical landscape. It was a period marked with troubles as he did jail time for possession of hashish, and later worked as a teacher and a waiter to pay the bills. He struggled with alcohol dependency before kicking the addiction in the ’80s.
Thanks in large part to regular reruns on a nascent MTV network, the Monkees’ popularity received an expected resurgence in 1986, during which time they embarked on the first of many (occasionally partial) reunions. Following the death of vocalist Davy Jones in 2012, the surviving members continued to tour, and in 2016 released Good Times! — their first Top 20 album in half a century.
Though he contributed to the latest Monkees’ project, a Christmas album released last fall, he did not participate in any promotion or touring. Married four times, he leaves behind three children: daughters Hallie Elizabeth, 48, and Erica Marie, 21, and son Ivan Joseph, 43.