This 1966 photo shows The Monkees, singing group. Shown from left, are, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith. Jones died Wednesday Feb. 29, 2012 in Florida. He was 66. Jones rose to fame in 1965 when he joined The Monkees, a British popular rock group formed for a television show. Jones sang lead vocals on songs like "I Wanna Be Free" and "Daydream Believer." (AP Photo/fls)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Davy Jones, a former actor turned singer who helped propel the TV rock band The Monkees to the top of the pop charts and into rock 'n' roll history, died Wednesday in Florida. He was 66.
Jones, lead singer of the 1960s group that was assembled as an American version of the Beatles, died of a massive heart attack in Indiantown where he lived, his publicist Helen Kensick confirmed.
Jones was a former racehorse jockey-turned-actor who soared to fame in 1965 when he joined The Monkees and they embarked on an adventure that included a wildly popular U.S. television show. Jones sang lead vocals on songs like "I Wanna Be Free" and "Daydream Believer."
The band was assembled as with its personnel designed to be the instant stars of an American TV series seeking to evoke the Beatles, then already famous for their music and such films as "A Hard Day's Night and "Help!"
Auditions for The Monkees were held in the fall of 1965, attracting some 500 applicants. Jones — who was born Dec. 30, 1945, in Manchester, England — had stylishly long hair and a British accent that helped with his selection. He would go on to achieve heartthrob status in the United States.
Nonetheless, musical ability wasn't paramount in the casting decisions. While Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork had some musical experience, Mickey Dolenz had been a child actor, as had Jones along with being a jockey in his native England.
In August 1966, the Beatles performed in San Francisco, playing their last live set for a paying audience. The same month, the Monkees released their first album, introducing the world to the group that would star in the NBC series when it premiered in September 1966.
The first single, "Last Train to Clarksville," became a No. 1 hit. And the show caught on with audiences, featuring fast-paced, helter-skelter comedy inspired as much by the Marx Brothers as the Beatles.
It was a shrewd case of cross-platform promotion. As David Bianculli noted in his "Dictionary of Teleliteracy," ''The show's self-contained music videos, clear forerunners of MTV, propelled the group's first seven singles to enviable positions of the pop charts: three number ones, two number twos, two number threes."
And though initially the Monkees weren't allowed to play their own instruments, they were supported by enviable talent: Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote "Pleasant Valley Sunday," and Neil Diamond penned "I'm a Believer."
Musicians who played on their records included Billy Preston (who only later played with the Beatles), Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, Ry Cooder and Neil Young.
After two seasons, the TV series had flared out and was cancelled in the summer of 1968. But the Monkeys remained a nostalgia act for decades.
According to The Monkees website, Monkees.com, Jones left the band in late 1970. In the summer of 1971, he recorded a solo hit "Rainy Jane" and made a series of appearances on American variety and television shows, including "Love American Style" and "The Brady Bunch."
Jones played himself in a widely popular Brady Bunch episode, which aired in late 1971. In the episode, Marcia Brady, president of her school's Davy Jones fan club, promised she could get him to sing at a school dance.
Amid lingering nostalage for the Monkees, by the mid-1980s, Jones teamed up with former Monkee Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and promoter David Fishof for a reunion tour. Their popularity prompted MTV to re-air The Monkees series, introducing the group to a new audience.
In 1987, Jones, Tork and Micky Dolenz recorded a new album, "Pool It." Two years later, the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In the late 1990s, the group filmed a special called "Hey, Hey, It's the Monkees."
Jones is survived by his wife, Jessica.
AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody and AP Television Writer Frazier Moore contributed to this report from New York.