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Ex-Monkee Peter Tork dies at 77

Peter Tork was one of The Monkees, a group formed for the purpose of a TV show but which took on a life of their own, in the mid-1960s. He was 77.

WASHINGTON — Peter Tork, one of The Monkees, has died at 77.

Tork’s son Ivan Iannoli told The Associated Press his father died Thursday morning at the family home in Connecticut of complications from adinoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the salivary glands. He had battled the disease since 2009.

“Peter’s energy, intelligence, silliness, and curiosity were traits that for decades brought laughter and enjoyment to millions, including those of us closest to him,” his son said in a statement. “Those traits also equipped him well to take on cancer, a condition he met like everything else in his life, with unwavering humor and courage.”

Tork, who was often hailed by the other Monkees as the band’s best musician, had studied music since childhood. He was accomplished on guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, banjo and other instruments. Michael Nesmith, the Monkees’ lead guitarist, said Tork was the better of the two. Tork said he played bass because none of the others wanted to.

“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,” read a message on Tork’s Facebook page Thursday morning.

Born Peter Halsten Torkelson in Washington, D.C., Tork played several instruments, including the banjo, bass, keyboards and guitar. He was a folk musician in the Greenwich Village scene in the early 1960s.

He joined The Monkees, a group formed for the purpose of filming the TV show of the same name, in 1966 on a recommendation from his friend Stephen Stills, who had auditioned for the show and went on to form Crosby, Stills and Nash. Tork joined Nesmith, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz in the group, which had hits including “I’m a Believer,” “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and more.

“As I write this my tears are awash, and my heart is broken,” Nesmith posted on his Facebook page Thursday. “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.”

The Monkees were supposed to be a fictitious band styled along the lines of The Beatles, and were originally supposed to use only outside songwriters and studio musicians. Tork and Nesmith were accomplished musicians, however, and they slowly won the right to write and perform their own music.

“I was a hired hand, and I didn’t quite know that, and I didn’t quite get it,” he told The Associated Press in 2000. “I had fantasies of being more important than it turns out I was.”

Eventually he and Nesmith wrested control of the band’s musical fate from Don Kirshner, who had been brought in as the show’s music producer. By the group’s third album, “Headquarters,” the Monkees were playing their instruments and had even performed live in Hawaii.

After the show concluded in 1968 the band went on a lengthy concert tour that at one point included Jimi Hendrix as the opening act.

Tork left in 1968; the band dissolved in 1971. They reunited periodically and in various combinations over the years, most famously in 1986. In later years Tork recorded and toured with his own band, Shoe Suede Blues.

Jones died in 2012. Dolenz and Nesmith are slated to begin a tour March 1 in Medford, Mass.

Tork’s family is “asking fans who would like to make contributions in Peter’s name to donate to the scholarship fund at The Institute for The Musical Arts in Massachusetts, a nonprofit that provides young women with music education, music recording, and music community.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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