LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Davy Jones, a onetime teen heartthrob as a member of the 1960s made-for-television pop band the Monkees, died on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack near his home in Florida, according to his longtime publicist. He was 66.
Jones was stricken while attending to racehorses he kept in Indiantown, Florida, about halfway between the Atlantic coast and Lake Okeechobee, spokeswoman Helen Kensick said. Jones had lived with his third wife, Jessica Pacheco-Jones, in Hollywood, Florida, in recent years, she said.
The three surviving former Monkees — Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith — expressed shock and sadness in individual statements.
“The time we worked together and had together is something I’ll never forget,” Dolenz, 66, said. “He was the brother I never had, and this leaves a gigantic hole in my heart. The memories have and will last a lifetime.”
Born in Manchester, England, Jones was the lone British member and youngest of the band, becoming the principal teen idol of the rock quartet featured for two seasons on the NBC comedy series “The Monkees.” The prime-time hit was inspired in part by the Beatles film “A Hard Day’s Night” and ran from the fall of 1966 to August 1968.
Although not allowed to play their own instruments on their early records, Jones and his three cohorts had several hits that sold millions of copies, including “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer.”
Jones sang lead vocals on the hit single “Daydream Believer,” as well as such songs as “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You,” and “Valleri.”
Jones got his start as an 11-year-old actor on the still-running British soap opera “Coronation Street” before landing a role as the Artful Dodger in a West End production of “Oliver!” He went on to originate that role for the Broadway production and earned a Tony nomination.
But Jones gained wider stardom after answering a casting call for a TV series being created about the zany misadventures of four Beatles-like rock musicians called the Monkees. Two members of the group, Nesmith and Tork, were musicians with performing and recording experience, while Jones and Dolenz were primarily actors who more or less dabbled in music.
According to Jones, the four were selected largely on the basis of their physical chemistry.
“We looked for different types of guys to be part of this idea,” he recalled in an account posted on his website. “Micky, Peter, Mike and I were put together in one scene and everyone said, ‘That’s it ... magic! We’ll use you four.”
Although disparaged by critics as the “Pre-Fab Four” for the manufactured way in which the band came together, the group proved to be adept performers who were eventually given control over their own recordings.
Veteran label executive Don Kirshner, the show’s musical coordinator, was ultimately fired from the series when producers sided with the stars in a standoff over their musical autonomy.
The TV series, introduced by its catchy theme, “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees,” debuted as an immediate ratings hit weeks after the group’s first single, “Last Train to Clarksville,” had topped the pop charts.
The group collaborated early on with some of the major songwriters and session musicians of the day, including Neil Diamond, Carole King, Glen Campbell and Hal Blaine.
The Monkees’ self-titled first LP topped the album charts that October, and the popularity of the group generated a wave of merchandising, including toys, games and lunchboxes. But their only feature film, “Head,” was a box-office flop.
After their fifth album, the group began to splinter, releasing two more albums as a trio without Tork and one last LP as a duo following Nesmith’s exit in 1969.
Jones went on to pursue a less-heralded solo career and appeared as himself in a popular 1971 episode of the hit sitcom “The Brady Bunch, in which the show’s character, Marcia Brady, was president of a Davy Jones fan club and tried to get the singer to perform at her school prom.
He made another cameo as himself in the 1995 “The Brady Bunch Movie.”
Jones had a lifelong love of racehorses, which he continued to train and ride in recent years. He was working as an apprentice jockey as a teenager when British theatrical agents impressed by his early TV work took him to London to introduce him to the West End scene.
“I’ve always thought if all the show business success hadn’t happened, I’d have been a world champion jockey. It’s in my blood,” Jones once said.
Referring to Jones as the Manchester Cowboy, Tork, 70, said in a Facebook message posted on Wednesday, “his gifts will be with us always,” while Nesmith, 69, said, “David’s spirit and soul live well in my heart.”
Jones, Tork and Dolenz teamed up for a 20th anniversary reunion tour in 1986 and regrouped again for another tour three years later. A final reunion album by all four original Monkees, “Justus,” was released in 1996, in conjunction with a TV special.
A 45th anniversary tour, again without Nesmith, was launched last year.
In addition to his wife, Jones is survived for four daughters from two previous marriages.
Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy and Christine Kearney; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston