I was never a big Monkees fan, so Davy Jones’ passing last week didn’t initially impact me that much. What was most striking is that he was only ten years older than I was, which took me aback for a moment.
But it did get me thinking about ’60s celebrities – coincidentally, I had been watching old DVDs of Laugh-In the same week Jones passed away. Both shows shared a 1960s irreverence and devotion to offbeat, puckish humor. I had my seventh-grade art class on Tuesday mornings when Laugh-In first started airing, and we would spend most of the time repeating the jokes of the evening before.
But that was almost 45 years ago. Still, the topic of what happens to celebrities when the spotlight goes dim has always fascinated me. In the 1970s and 1980s, Richard Lamparski created a cottage industry of radio shows and nostalgia books that tracked down celebrities past their prime, called Whatever Happened To…, and those frequently answered that question about the far side of fame. Today, Wikipedia has taken the place of Lamparski’s efforts, and it reveals that for a sad number of ’60s television stars, the intervening years have had a common thread: voice-overs, children’s shows, direct-to-video movies, soap opera stints, and regional theater.
Admittedly, my search did reveal some interesting trivia:
● Ruth Buzzi, now 75, lives on a ranch near Fort Worth with her husband, a retired businessman, raising cattle, collecting antique cars, and painting; though she doesn’t sell the latter, she often donates them for charitable events.
● Joanne Worley, now 76, has recently returned to Broadway, where she had spent some time pre-Laugh-In.
● Barry Williams, now 57, did a That 70s Show episode in which he and Brady Bunch brother Christopher Knight played a couple of gay neighbors.
● Maureen McCormick, now 55, is married to someone who’d never seen the Brady Bunch.
● Monkee Mickey Dolenz, turning 65 this week, lost the role of Fonzie on Happy Days to Henry Winkler.
As hard as some people tried to run away from what they were famous for, the more it kept coming back to haunt them. But it turns out that Davy Jones had it figured out better than all of them. As I learned in a memoriam by Ben Fong-Torres in the San Francisco Chronicle, Jones actually enjoyed being a Monkee and embraced it for all of the ensuing years, doing both solo shows and reunion tours – whether his fellow Monkees joined him or not. He never refused to do an interview or sign an autograph.
Fong-Torres’ article recounts an episode from the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Jones was appearing on Broadway as one of the orphans in Oliver! and was on the same episode, performing a segment of the musical. Jones watched the effect the Beatles had on the screaming audience: “I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, ‘This is it. I want a piece of that.'”
And when he got it, he hung onto it. As much as I’ve argued recently for the need to reinvent oneself, I realize that Davy Jones took the opposite tack. He never tried to be anything besides a a Monkee (other than, ironically, playing Fagin in an Oliver! revival) and managed to enjoy his career to the hilt anyway. For most of us, reinvention means constantly searching for the next thing that works. Davy Jones found something that worked early on, and kept it going for as long as he lived. What a lucky man.