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Bob Rafelson, co-creator of The Monkees , director of Five Easy Pieces , dies at 89

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Bob Rafelson, a rebellious but culturally astute filmmaker best known for the Jack Nicholson classic Five Easy Pieces, died July 23 in Aspen, Colo. after a battle with lung cancer. He was 89.

In addition to his work as a filmmaker, Rafelson also co-created, with production partner Bert Schneider, the 1960s TV pop group The Monkees.

LOS ANGLES, CA - 1990: Academy Award-nominated film director, Bob Rafelson, poses at an editing machine during a 1990 Los Angeles, California, photo portrait session. Actors Jack Nicholson and Karen Black both won Academy Awards starring in Rafelson's 1970 film "Five Easy Pieces." (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
LOS ANGLES, CA - 1990: Academy Award-nominated film director, Bob Rafelson, poses at an editing machine during a 1990 Los Angeles, California, photo portrait session. Actors Jack Nicholson and Karen Black both won Academy Awards starring in Rafelson's 1970 film "Five Easy Pieces." (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

George Rose/Getty

Born in New York City on February 21, 1933, Rafelson rebelled as a teenager, running away to join the rodeo in Arizona and joining a jazz band in Acapulco. After studying philosophy at Dartmouth, Rafelson got drafted into the army, and worked as a disc jockey while stationed in Japan.

Rafelson's career in television began in 1959 as a story editor on the show Play of the Week, earning his first writing credit on a 1960 episode of The Witness. In 1962, Rafelson moved his family to Hollywood to work as a television associate producer, eventually meeting fellow producer Bert Schneider in 1965. The two struck up a partnership, forming Raybert Productions. Their first series was inspired by Rafelson's time as young, itinerant musician, though it would draw comparisons to The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, which came out the previous year: The Monkees.

The duo won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1967, only to torpedo the popularity of The Monkees (which was already waning) the following year with the psychedelic cult classic Head. A legendary bomb (it earned just $16,111 on a budget of nearly $800,000), Head also marked Rafelson's first collaboration with Jack Nicholson. Rafelson, Nicholson, and The Monkees allegedly brainstormed the screenplay on a weed-fueled weekend in Ojai, Calif. and Nicholson hammered out the script while on an LSD trip.

The result was a predictably disjointed affair, and was received rather harshly, though in the years since its release Head has developed a cult following. Despite Head's chilly reception, Rafelson and Nicholson's next film, Easy Rider, proved a far more successful venture. Produced by BBS Productions — Rafelson's new company with Schneider and third partner Steve Blauner — and directed by Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider was a cultural phenomenon. The final nail in the coffin of the old Hollywood studio system, the film brought Nicholson the first of 12 Oscar nominations.

Rafelson and Nicholson continued their hot streak with 1970's Five Easy Pieces, a critical smash that earned Rafelson two Oscar nominations, Best Picture and Best Screenplay, which he shared with Carole Eastman. The following year he also produced Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show.

MORELIA, MEXICO - OCTOBER 26: (L-R) Filmmakers Carlos Reygadas, Bob Rafelson and Cristian Mangiu pose with their de movie theater during a press conference as part of the XV Morelia International Film Festival at Cinepolis on October 26, 2017 in Morelia, Mexico. (Photo by Pedro Gonzalez Castillo/Getty Images)
MORELIA, MEXICO - OCTOBER 26: (L-R) Filmmakers Carlos Reygadas, Bob Rafelson and Cristian Mangiu pose with their de movie theater during a press conference as part of the XV Morelia International Film Festival at Cinepolis on October 26, 2017 in Morelia, Mexico. (Photo by Pedro Gonzalez Castillo/Getty Images)

Pedro Gonzalez Castillo/Getty

Though Rafelson's film career would never again reach the heights of his late-60s, early-70s heyday, other notable films he directed include 1972's The King of Marvin Gardens with Nicholson, Stay Hungry with a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1976, a remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice with Nicholson and Jessica Lange in 1981, 1987's Black Widow with Debra Winger, and 1990's Mountains of the Moon.

Rafelson and Nicholson continued their collaborations over the decades, working together on a total of seven films, ending with 1996's Blood and Wine.

Bob Rafelson directed his last feature, No Good Deed, in 2002 and then retired from film altogether. He is survived by his son Peter from a previous marriage, his wife Gabrielle, and their two sons. E.O. and Harper.

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