Matt Bob Rafelson: Monkees co-creator and director of Five Easy Pieces was 89

Bob Rafelson, one of the founders of The Monkees who became an influential figure in the era of New Hollywood in the 1970s, has died. He was 89 years old.

His wife, Gabriel Turek Rafelson, said the “Five Easy Pieces” director died Saturday night at his Aspen home in the middle of his family.

Raffelson was responsible for co-creating the fantasy pop group and television series “The Monkees” alongside the late Bert Schneider, who won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1967.

But he is perhaps best known for his work during the New Hollywood era, which saw a classic studio system give way to a range of rebellious young voices and new filmmaking styles, and helped attract talents such as Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.

Raffelson directed and co-wrote “Five Easy Pieces,” about an upper-class pianist yearning for a more blue-collar life, and “The King of Marvin Gardens,” about a depressed late-night radio talk show host. Both films starred Jack Nicholson and explored themes of the fading American dream. Five Easy Pieces earned two Raffelson Academy Award nominations in 1971, for Best Picture and Screenplay.

He has also produced New Hollywood classics including “The Last Picture Show” by Peter Bogdanovich and “Easy Rider” by Dennis Hopper.

Coppola once described him as “one of the most important cinematographers of his time” and his admirers include Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson.

Rafelson was born in New York City and was a distant relative of “The Jazz Singer” screenwriter Samson Rafelson, who said he was interested in his work. At Dartmouth he also befriended legendary screenwriter Buck Henry.

He developed his interest in Japanese cinema and the films of Yasujiro Ozu, especially “Tokyo Story” while serving in the US Army in Japan.

After graduating from college, Raffelson married his high school sweetheart, who would work as a production designer on his and other films. He got his start in entertainment in television, writing on shows like “The Witness” and “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

But “Monkees” was his first big hit. He said the idea predated the Beatles and the musical comedy “A Hard Day’s Night,” but shocked the moment well when it premiered on NBC in 1966. It ran for two years and allowed Rafelson to take a stab at getting himself out.

The Monkees also made his directorial debut, “Head,” which would be the first of many collaborations with Nicholson.

“I may have thought I started his career, but I think he started my career,” Nicholson told Esquire in 2019.

Raffelson was most proud of his 1990 film, Mountains of the Moon, a biographical film that tells the story of two explorers, Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speck, as they search for the source of the Nile, his wife said.

She said Raffelson’s adventures in places such as Morocco, India, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Guatemala influenced his work.

“He loved nothing more than to disappear into strange pockets of the world,” said Taurek Rafelson.

Rafelson left Hollywood two decades ago to focus on raising two sons with Toric Rafelson, Ethan and Harper in Aspen. He and his first wife, Toby Rafelson, also had two children: Julie, who died in 1973 when she was 10, and Peter.

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