DENVER — Bob Rafelson, co-creator of “The Monkees” who became an influential figure in the New Hollywood era of the 1970s, has died. He was 89 years old.
Rafelson died Saturday night at his home in Aspen surrounded by his family, his wife, Gabrielle Taurek Rafelson said.
Rafelson was responsible for co-creating the fictional pop music group and television series “The Monkees” alongside the late Bert Schneider, which won him an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1967.
But he was perhaps best known for his work in the New Hollywood era, which saw a classic studio system give way to a host of rebellious young voices and new styles of filmmaking, and helped usher in talents like Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford. Coppola and Steven Spielberg.
Rafelson directed and co-wrote “Five Easy Pieces,” about an upper-class pianist who yearns for a more working-class life, and “The King of Marvin Gardens,” about a depressed late-night talk show host. Both films starred Jack Nicholson and explored themes of the haywire American Dream. “Five Easy Pieces” earned Rafelson two Oscar nominations in 1971, for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
He also produced seminal New Hollywood classics, including Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” and Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider.”
Coppola once called him “one of the most important motion picture artists of his time” and his fans include Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson.
Rafelson was born in New York and was a distant relative of “The Jazz Singer” screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, who he said was interested in his work. At Dartmouth, he also befriended legendary screenwriter Buck Henry.
He developed an interest in Japanese cinema and the films of Yasujiro Ozu, especially “Tokyo Story”, while serving in the United States Army in Japan.
After college, Rafelson married his high school sweetheart, who would work as a production designer on his and other films. He got his start in the television entertainment business, writing for shows like “The Witness” and “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
But “The Monkees” was his first big hit. The idea for The Monkees, he said, predates The Beatles and the musical “A Hard Day’s Night,” but it hit the mark when it premiered on NBC in 1966. It lasted two years and allowed Rafelson to try his luck. lead himself.
The Monkees also appeared in his feature debut, “Head,” which would be the first of many collaborations with Nicholson.
“I may have thought I started his career,” Nicholson told Esquire in 2019, “but I think he started my career.”
Rafelson was most proud of the 1990 film he made, “Mountains of the Moon”, a biographical film which told the story of two explorers, Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, as they searched for the source of the Nil, said his wife.
Rafelson’s own adventures in places like Morocco, India, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Guatemala influenced her work, she said.
“He loved nothing more than disappearing into strange pockets of the world,” Taurek Rafelson said.
Rafelson left Hollywood two decades ago to focus on raising her two sons with Taurek Rafelson, Ethan and Harper, in Aspen. He and his first wife, Toby Rafelson, also had two children, Peter and Julie, who died in 1973 when she was 10.