Singer and bass player Peter Tork of The Monkees has died after fighting a 10-year battle against a rare form of tongue cancer, according to the Daily Mail. The 77-year-old passed away Thursday, as confirmed by his sister Anne Torkelson. However, while Torkelson did confirm the 1960s musical icon’s death, she did not directly attribute it to the tongue cancer he has lived with for nearly a decade.
Tork was the oldest member of the band when it was assembled in 1966 — joining Mickey Dolenz, Davey Jones, and Mike Nesmith in what would become the massive commercial juggernaut of Monkees-mania. This phenomenon included album and single sales, worldwide touring, merchandise, and of course the band’s television show.
While the silly but beloved program only ran for two seasons, it did win an Emmy for outstanding comedy. The band was overtly manufactured to be an American-style Beatles, and was often dismissed as the “Prefab Four.” All four members were auditioned to create a proto-boy band, selected more for their hair, personalities, and looks than for their musical chops.
Still, Tork was an accomplished musician, playing bass and keyboard. Indeed, Stephen Stills auditioned for the part before Tork, and was told he was being turned down because the producers didn’t think his hair and teeth would translate well to the small screen. But when the producers asked Stills if he knew anyone with a similar “Nordic look” to his own, he pointed them toward Tork, whom he knew from the growing folk music scene in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Despite the band’s fabricated origins, their fame and fan base were very real, even outselling the Beatles for a short time. Tork adopted the “Ringo persona” of the band, playing the role of the goofy, sometimes unsophisticated member. He often described himself as the “dummy” of the band.
Tork sang lead on a number of the band’s songs, including “Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again.” The bassist also penned the music for the band’s strange but seminal film Head, which featured the likes of Frank Zappa, Jack Nicholson, and Dennis Hopper.
And while all the group’s members had a saccharine-sweet on-camera persona, off-camera Tork was known for going all-in on the Summer of Love ethos — wearing love beads and offering quotes like “nonverbal, extrasensory communication is at hand,” and “dogmatism is leaving the scene.”
While the then-24-year-old Tork was the group’s oldest member in 1966 when the band debuted, he declared that age was nothing but a number when you’re a Monkee.
“The emotional age of all of us is 13,” he told the New York Times.