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Davy Jones of The Monkees: A towering multimedia star
Updated 3/4/2012 1:48 PM ET
Davy Jones was not a tall man. But what a long pop-culture shadow he cast.

Standing about a head shorter than his mates in The Monkees — the nation's first made-for-TV boy band — the 5-foot-3, British-born singer had the winning personality of his mop-topped alter ego Paul McCartney, the teen-idol dreaminess of a Justin Bieber and the distinctive voice of a genuine hitmaker.

Jones, 66, died Wednesday of a heart attack near his home in Indiantown, Fla. The news rocked the surviving Monkees.

PHOTOS: Images from Davy Jones' life MORE: Fun facts about Jones, The Monkees MORE: Timeline: From 1945 to 2012

"This is an enormous event in my world," Monkee Peter Tork tells USA TODAY. "I have been thinking about his talent and his heart. What is the saddest thing in the world is that not everyone was able to see the range and depth of his heart. He was about as heartfelt a man as anyone I have ever met in my life. … In all his glory as a musician and performer, Davy was in the top rank."

Recommended listening

While all four members of The Monkees sang, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz took the lead on the group’s biggest hits. Among Jones’ vocals:

- A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (No. 2, 1967)
- Daydream Believer (No. 1, 1967)
- Valleri (No. 3, 1968)

Other key Monkees songs sung by Jones:

- I Wanna Be Free (1966)
- When Love Comes Knockin’ (At Your Door) (1967)
- Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) (1967)
- Hard to Believe (1967, co-written by Jones)
- Early Morning Blues and Greens (1967)
- Dream World (1968, another co-write)

Solo:

- What Are We Going to Do? (No. 93, 1965)
- Rainy Jane (No. 52, 1971)
- Girl (1971, which Jones performed on The Brady Bunch)

On Facebook, Micky Dolenz said he was "in a state of shock … He was the brother I never had. The memories have and will last a lifetime." Michael Nesmith, the only holdout from recent reunion shows, wrote philosophically, "That David has stepped beyond my view causes me the sadness that it does many of you. I will miss him, but I won't abandon him to mortality."

Web tributes poured in Wednesday from fans both average and famous, folks who either grew up with the Pre-Fab Four's campy eponymous TV show in the '60s — which spawned hummable staples such as Daydream Believer and Last Train to Clarksville— or were exposed to its smash rebirth on MTV in the '80s.

Of the many video reflections uploaded to YouTube, one poignantly opens with McCartney, captured backstage somewhere, singing The Monkees theme song.

?uestlove wrote on Twitter, "Davy Jones is gone. I loved the Monkees." Julian Lennon noted that Jones "did some great work." Neil Diamond acknowledged that his sadness was tempered by the "thrill" he felt when The Monkees recorded his songs, including I'm A Believer. But anchor Al Roker tweeted it best: "A little bit of my youth just died."

Those who knew Jones say that his boyish grin was not a showman's facade, but the physical manifestation of an innate love of life.

"Look at one frame of Davy smiling, and you see instantly what he brought not just to TV viewers, but to everyone around him," says Canadian singer Andy Kim, who scored a hit with Rock Me Gently and wrote songs for Jones' post-Monkees collaboration with Dolenz.

"That Monkees thing continued with him, with screaming fans and all everywhere he went," Kim says. "But he never ran from it, he enjoyed the ride all the way. The Monkees were big in a playful, innocent time, and he embodied that spirit."

Jones "loved his fans, and was never ashamed of being a Monkee," says Andrew Sandoval, who managed the band on their reunion tour in 2011 and wrote the 2005 biography, The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation.

"If you look beyond the surface, you quickly see that this band went way past being just a commercialization of The Beatles," says Sandoval, referencing the band's genesis at the hands of Hollywood producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who saw potential in assembling a quirky quartet that could capitalize on the sensation caused by The Beatles film A Hard Day's Night.

"There were 58 episodes of what's now a timeless TV show, there are five platinum albums and even a movie (1968's Head, co-written by Jack Nicholson)," says Sandoval.

Actor Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch, recalls Jones as "a wonderful man, very well-intentioned, talented, professional. He was small in stature, but tall in character."

Jones played himself in an episode of the sitcom. Brady Bunch fanatics profess that the episode mentions "a star's name more times than in any other show," Williams says. "Marcia (Brady) kept saying 'Is Davy Jones coming? Davy Jones is coming' so often that his name was said about 57 times."

Jones' teen-idol charisma thoroughly captured Lyndsey Parker, so much so that the managing editor of Yahoo! Music was gutted as a child to learn that "because I was watching the show in reruns, my first celeb crush wouldn't be someone I'd be marrying."

Parker, who also grew up adoring Brady Bunch reruns, said the day she saw the episode where Jones visits the Bradys "my head almost exploded."

Jones "really was the mascot of a group that for many of us was a gateway band to groups like The Beatles," says Parker. "I don't think you can overstate his influence. Even to the point where the first time I saw (Guns N' Roses lead singer) Axl Rose do that sideways shimmy of his, I thought, 'OK, he got that from Davy.' "

Veteran DJ Bruce Morrow dedicated his SiriusXM program Cruisin' With Cousin Brucie on Wednesday night to Jones, and fielded countless calls from "women who were convinced they were going to grow up to marry him," he says with a laugh.

"Davy just had this ability to jump out of the TV," says Morrow, who often had Jones as a guest. Each time, "He had this amazing energy, this twinkle in his eye. And he lent the Monkees a lot of that spirit."

Jones was born in Manchester, England, in the last gasps of 1945, amid the rubble of World War II bombings. After his mother died when he was 14, the diminutive teen trained as a jockey, which led to an enduring appreciation of horses and racing. His show business career began when he appeared in the British soap Coronation Street.

But fate smiled on Jones a short time later. He was cast as the Artful Dodger in London and Broadway runs of Oliver!, garnering a Tony Award nomination for the latter. If Jones glimpsed his future, it was on Feb. 9, 1964, when he and the Oliver! cast waited in the wings of Ed Sullivan's New York theater, watching as The Beatles made their first appearance on American TV.

Jones was signed by Screen Gems to an acting contract, and in 1965 he was chosen to join three American actors and musicians to form the Beatles knockoff band. Initially, The Monkees didn't play any instruments on their records. But as their fame skyrocketed, the quartet insisted they be allowed to tour as a real band. While the others took to instruments — Tork on bass, Nesmith on guitar and Dolenz on drums — Jones grabbed a tambourine and quickly became the focal point.

"Jones really was the first real big teen heartthrob, a sex symbol really," says Ian Drew, senior music editor at Us Weekly. "For a lot of women who grew up in that era, he was it."

That affable manner was "as indelible a part of The Monkees as Mike's cap and Micky's goofy looks," says Phil Gallo, senior correspondent at Billboard, who recalls collecting Monkees trading cards as a kid before graduating to baseball cards. "He was the crowd pleaser in that group. And though he tried to have a pop career on his own, in the end he was always a Monkee."

Jones spent the last few decades returning to his acting roots, appearing in movies (as himself in The Brady Bunch Movie), TV shows (Sabrina the Teenage Witch) and even cartoons (SpongeBob Square Pants).

But he never gave up on his Monkees roots, appearing in various incarnations of the band including a successful reunion tour last year with everyone but Nesmith. The reunited trio managed to sell out Carnegie Hall in New York and the Royal Albert Hall in London. A 25th anniversary re-release of the 1987 Monkees reunion album, Pool It!, is set for release March 27 on Rhino Records.

Might this have been another year for the Monkees to strut their stuff — as a quartet? Perhaps, though with Jones' passing, that fan fantasy is now moot.

"You have the Beach Boys putting a lot behind them to reunite this year, so maybe Mike would have done the same. That would have been nice," says Kim in a moment of wishful thinking.

"You know, people say a lot of nice things about folks when they pass on, even if they don't really mean it," he says. "You could have called me yesterday or two decades ago and I would have said the same thing. Davy Jones was everything you'd hope and thought Davy Jones might be."

Contributing: Bryan Alexander, Carly Mallenbaum, Brian Mansfield, Elysa Gardner and David Oliver

Posted 2/29/2012 2:14 PM ET
Updated 3/4/2012 1:48 PM ET
Davy Jones, left, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith were The Monkees.
Davy Jones, left, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith were The Monkees.

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