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Davy Jones: The Life of a Monkee

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The Monkees broke free of Kirshner, and became more popular than ever – for a while. Ratings remained strong through all of 1967, and they stayed in the Top Five with "Daydream Believer" (written by John Stewart of the Kingston Trio) and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (courtesy of King and Gerry Goffin). The emboldened Monkees demanded radical changes to their TV program as a third season approached: Their plan was to turn it into a Laugh In-style variety show with celebrity guests. But ratings had dipped by then, and rather than negotiate with teen idols who were demanding control, NBC simply canceled The Monkees in the summer of 1968. When the show stopped, so did the hits.

Undaunted, Rafelson moved forward with a movie that would shatter perceptions of the group. Rafelson, Schneider and a friend, the unknown actor Jack Nicholson, went to Ojai, California, with the four Monkees, where they smoked Hawaiian pot while dictating into a tape recorder. Nicholson took the tapes, dropped some acid and wrote a screenplay that would eventually be called Head.

The psychedelic, surreal film – one of the most infamous flops of all time – didn't bear the slightest resemblance to the Monkees' show. In the film, the group sings a vicious parody of its own theme song: "Hey, hey, we are the Monkees/You know we love to please/A manufactured image/With no philosophies." The Monkees had released the original song just two years earlier – the phenomenon had consumed itself with almost uncanny speed. "The Monkees didn't quite understand what the movie was," says Rafelson, who was already moving on to Easy Rider, "and I'm not so sure that Jack and I knew what we were doing."

After two years of madness, Jones was exhausted. "I didn't know what I wanted," he wrote in his memoir. "Part of the time I was trying to get everyone united, and the rest of the time I just wanted to go home and sleep for a few years." The group limped along for another year, releasing singles that failed to crack the Top 40. The Monkees quietly disbanded in 1970.

Nearly everyone involved with the band profited from the experience – except for the actual Monkees. Jones and his bandmates were flat broke. They had opted for a percentage of profits instead of a lump sum of cash, not realizing that all expenses – planes, hotels, recording time – were deducted from their share.

Jones discovered that his time as a Monkee was more of a tombstone than a steppingstone for his acting career – his most prominent Seventies TV moment was playing himself on The Brady Bunch. He was forced to return to the stage, even reclaiming his old Artful Dodger role in an L.A. production of Oliver!

The first glimmerings of Sixties nostalgia soon arrived, and in the mid-Seventies, Jones made some cash on an oldies tour. Newly separated from his wife, no longer a fresh-faced teen idol, a thirtyish Jones embraced the debauchery he had previously shunned: "Women, booze... I went crazy."

Jones and his bandmates had been out of the spotlight for nearly a decade when, against all pop-culture odds, Monkee-mania erupted all over again. In 1986, MTV – then hungry for nonmusic­video programming – began regularly airing episodes of the old Monkees TV show. An entire new generation fell in love with Davy Jones, and the Monkees quickly signed on for a reunion tour, minus an uninterested Nesmith. They wound up packing 20,000-seat venues across America. "The most thrilling thing for me," said Jones, "is when I see in the first row a 30-year-old mom and a six-year-old kid."

Opening act "Weird Al" Yankovic was overwhelmed by the fans' youth and enthusiasm: "Teenage girls would come running to my tour bus. I'd open the door and they'd say, 'Al! Al! Do you know where Davy Jones is staying?'"

The Monkees kept touring through the Nineties, to smaller but still enthused audiences – and even reunited with Nesmith for an album and a European tour. For Jones, though, a certain bitterness crept in: He was incensed at the Monkees' exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and in 2000, he announced a bizarre plan to open his own "Davy Jones Rock and Roll Museum" that would honor the Monkees, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, and other groups he felt were unappreciated. "What the hell is [the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] doing in Cleveland?" he asked. "I don't need any more awards... I'm not going there, anyway, if they put me in."

In 2011, The Monkees returned to the stage for an international tour that got some of the best reviews of their career. Over the years, they'd picked up a surprising amount of respect: "People realize how great the songs are," says R.E.M.'s Mike Mills. "It doesn't matter anymore that they didn't write them. It's just not the perceived crime that it was then." On their final tour, the Monkees were more of a real band than ever – digging deep into their catalog, even playing much of the Head soundtrack. Dolenz is grateful the group got one last chance: "Thank goodness we did that," he says. "It was phenomenal, and David had so much to do with putting that together and staging it."

Jones spent the early months of 2012 playing club gigs and tending to the horses he kept at a stable near his adopted hometown of Indiantown, Florida. He was at his stable on the morning of February 29th when, by one account, he complained to the staff of chest pains. He went to rest in his car, and when they went to check on him he was already dead of a heart attack.

Just 11 days before he died, Jones performed at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York. It's a cramped basement club in Times Square, but Jones was happy to be there – and he still sounded like Davy Jones. Toward the end, he sang "Daydream Believer," swaying to the beat and soaking in the cheers. "One more time," he said, pacing the stage during the chorus of one of the last songs he'd ever perform. He held his microphone out to the small but joyful crowd, and yelled, "Everyone sing!" They sang, loud and clear, and Jones smiled: They still believed.

This story is from the March 29th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

Related
My Date With Davy Jones
Rob Sheffield: In Memory of the Cute One: Davy Jones' Greatest Musical Moments
Exclusive: Michael Nesmith Remembers Davy Jones


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