Bob Rafelson, ‘Easy Rider’ Producer and ‘Five Easy Pieces’ Director, Dead at 89

by Megan Molseed

Bob Rafelson, the mind behind Easy Rider, The Monkees, and Five Easy Pieces has passed away at the age of 89. The writer, producer, and director became one of the most iconic people within the industry with his pioneering projects that set the tone for some of the most popular works of his era.

He collaborated with film legend Jack Nicholson on a variety of projects, including 1969’s Easy Rider, the 1970 hit, Five Easy Pieces, and 1972’s The King of Marvin Gardens. Rafelson passed away at his Aspen, Colorado home Saturday, July 23 of natural causes, his wife Gabrielle reports.

Bob Rafelson Always Had An Eye On Showbusiness

Bob Rafelson was born in New York in February 1933. His uncle, Samson Raphelson was the mind behind the short story – and Broadway production – that led to the 1927 film The Jazz Singer. As a teen, Rafelson avoided getting into his father’s textile business. Opting instead for seeking adventure away from home.

“I was one of those guys that took on all comers,” Rafelson told the Times in 1997. “I started leaving home at the age of 14.”

Over the years, Bob Rafelson traveled across the country and beyond working in a variety of roles such as a rodeo rider, and a jazz musician. He also took some time to study philosophy at Dartmouth. Rafelson was later drafted into the US Army where he worked as a disc jockey and translated Japanese films. This led to a position with the Japanese film company Shochiku Co.

In 1962 the future director and producer arrived in Hollywood where he began work as a producer on shows such as the Jack Palance ABC hit The Greatest Show on Earth.

Bob Rafelson Creates One Of The Most Iconic TV Super Groups

Bob Rafelson earned Oscar nominations for his work on Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture. Then, in 1966, he collaborated with Bert Schneider to create The Monkees…a take on the excitement surrounding the Beatles mania of the time.

This TV sitcom series focuses on the misadventures of four band members while living in their Malibu home. It’s the project that turned Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork into household names.

The series was canceled in 1968, but Rafelson brought the group back to life on the big screen with Head. This was Rafelson’s debut as a director on the big screen. However, the director was urged not to bring the project to fruition.

“Bob was urged by his partners and friends not to make a movie with The Monkees,” Rafelson’s wife has noted.

Rafelson’s later projects include the 1987 Debra Winger production Black Widow, and 1990s Mountains of the Moon. He also worked with Jack Nicholson on a few more films. These include 1992’s Man Trouble, Blood and Wine in 1997, and No Good Deed in 2002.