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RIP, Davy Jones: My day bowling with the Daydream Believer

Posted 2:09pm on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

Davy Jones became a Monkee the same year I was born. We met 37 years later, in the Fort Worth Stockyards on a Saturday morning in July 2002. He was in town to perform with fellow Monkee Micky Dolenz to a sold-out Billy Bob’s crowd of baby boomers and people like me, who had first encountered him as Marcia Brady’s prom crush on The Brady Bunch.

But first, we had to go bowling.

Back then, I regularly went bowling with celebrities, hoping to provide a unique twist on a typical star profile. It also combined one of my first loves – I practically grew up in the bowling alley and was a junior champ in my teen-age years. But I had no idea Davy Jones was a bowling fanatic, too.

In fact, during our interview and match on a summer Saturday at Cowtown Bowling Palace in River Oaks, he confessed that one of his lifelong goals was to bowl a 300 game. He used it as a metaphor for all the dreams he was still chasing at age 56.

When I heard that he died Wednesday at age 66 of a heart attack, all I could think of was: I hope he finally got his perfect game.

Below is our bowling interview from 10 years ago. Thanks for the roll, Davy.

DAYDREAM BELIEVER

By RICK PRESS Originally published: August 11, 2002

Before Davy Jones was a Monkee, before he was a '60s teen heartthrob and Marcia Brady's dream date, he was a bowler.

A very good bowler.

Jones shares this nugget the first minute we meet, and frankly, I'm a little flustered. Most celebrities I've bowled with can't remember the last time their limos drove by a bowling alley. So when he starts ticking off his favorite bowling buzzwords (turkey, Brooklyn-side, bagger), bowling legends (Don Carter, Dick Webber, Earl Anthony) and his average (about 170), it's all I can do to keep from screaming like a little girl.

I grew up watching reruns of Jones and his goofy pals (Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith) tooling around on TV in their GTO, wearing their striped shirts and bell-bottoms, getting in and out of jams, and always singing a sunny tune or two. Every Saturday at noon, I'd rush home from bowling league just in time to hear the theme song: "Here we come, walkin' down the street . . ."

Thirty years later, on a sizzling Saturday morning in Fort Worth, it's hard to believe I'm on my way to Cowtown lanes with Davy Jones for what would be two hours of bowling, banter and bittersweet memories.

"When I was 16, I came over to this country to appear on Broadway in a little show called Oliver!" says Jones, who was later nominated for a Tony. "But I didn't know anyone, so every night after the show I'd go over to Times Square Bowl and bowl six to 15 games.

"I loved it. I was a kid in the big city. It was lonely, and bowling became my best friend."

Turns out, the narrow confines of lane 32 provide a wide window into Jones' psyche. A therapy session, Jones called it, in which he freely talks about his many regrets, his horse race against mortality and his boyhood dreams -- one of which was to bowl a 300 game.

***

Davy Jones is searching for the perfect 16-pound house ball. He's barely 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds, but Jones knows he needs power to put up a big number.

He settles for an electric-blue 15-pounder and makes a beeline back to the lane. Before we could get rolling, though, an impromptu autograph session breaks out, and Jones is signing everything from league flyers to T-shirts to a brand new bowling shoe. When one bowling mom realizes her childhood dreamboat is within swooning distance, she approaches, slightly verklempt. "I didn't even get dressed today," she says. "That'll teach me, huh?"

Jones shoots back in his best Austin Powers: "There's nothing I like more than a woman who isn't dressed."

Even at 56, Davy is still The Cute One -- the Monkee who gets the most screams. That night at Billy Bob's, the packed honky-tonk bubbles over when Jones takes the mike for Girl, the song that made Marcia want to forget about waiting for her wedding night.

"It's unbelievable," Jones says of the way women still react at shows during the Monkees' current concert tour, which was headed to Lubbock, then Disneyland, then Vegas. "Like Micky says, they're not throwing knickers anymore -- now it's Depends."

But Jones says he's always managed to keep Monkeemania in perspective:

"I could just as well have been the funniest guy in the office. I'm not a great singer. I can sing. I can perform. I'm an entertainer. So anytime I go into a public place, whether it be a bowling alley or an airport, no matter, I have to be Davy Jones from the Monkees.

"Sure, I wanna be like everybody else," he says. "I want to be in the bowling league. But I've heard so many horror stories about entertainers saying 'no, I can't sign this, can't do this.' I'd rather spend four hours [signing autographs] than two minutes passing people off. Not everybody has to be a tough guy, ya know."

Jones is tough on the lanes, though. When he opens with a spare-strike combination, I can see he means business.

"My ambitions as a kid were to bowl a 300 game, ride on a camel, walk on a tightrope and be the bantamweight champion of the world," he tells me, counting them off on his fingers. "I rode on the camel, I walked on the tightrope, I haven't bowled a 300 game, but it's about time I started looking at it."

***

If occasionally Jones sounds more like a motivational speaker than a Monkee, it's not by design. He quotes Booker T. Washington and Winston Churchill, but only to remind himself of his own barrelful of regrets.

Divorced twice, with four daughters ages 14 to 33, Jones is quick to criticize himself for shirking family responsibilities at the height of stardom, for indulging in some of the excesses that came with fame (drinking and women) and for losing sight of his childhood dreams.

Even that elusive bowling thing. "I wish I had kept it up," he says. "Like Churchill said, 'Never, ever give up your youth.' I know that may sound dumb, but bowling has been part of my life."

So was horse racing. And at age 50, Jones, who once thought he was destined to be a jockey, hurtled to victory in a turf race in England on one of his four thoroughbreds. "My dream was made true," he says.

A few months ago, Jones, desperate to make up for lost time, actually delivered his grandson. (I'll spare you the enthusiastic details.)

"It was unbelievable," he says. "I just said to my daughter I wanted to be there. It's such a major event, you know. It's not like going out into the fields and having a baby. [There was a midwife present.] And having had four daughters of my own, I was only present for the last two."

As Jones shares the experience, the image of him as the sweet-faced boy with the lemon-drop voice fades. And the portrait of a silver-haired grandfather comes into focus.

"There was something missing out of my life," he says. "And I wanted to change some things."

***

Realizing the conversation is getting weightier than his 15-pound house ball, Jones brings the focus back to bowling -- which is a good thing because I'm losing by 20 pins.

When, in the seventh frame, he pronounces, "I'm going in for the big one," I can't watch. A strike would put me away.

But when I look up, there is hope.

"Ah, bedposts." Jones says in disgust. (Translation: the dreaded 7-10, the widest split possible.)

I had my chance. One strike, then two, then three.

"The turkey! That's terribly unfair," says Jones, smiling through defeat.

Final score: 166-132.

If my undefeated streak against celebrities was to be broken, I'd have wanted Jones to break it. He's a bowler's bowler, he loves the lingo, he even dates a woman with a 200 average. All of which should've prepared me for what came next.

Jones wanted a second game, a second chance.

***

I admired Jones' appetite for bowling, but it was beginning to get in the way of the interview. I wanted to ask him about being a Monkee, why Peter and Mike don't tour with the band anymore, and what Marcia Brady was really like. But he kept bringing us back to bowling.

"Bowling is a sport that everybody can play. The Monkees was a show that everybody could watch. It was about four guys trying to make it in adult life as musicians," he says. "We wanted to be like the Beatles. The American Beatles. And that's what we were, eventually."

The Monkees was a comet in the television universe -- a show that burned white-hot for two seasons (58 episodes) and then went poof. But the stars -- Micky, the funny one; Davy, the dreamy one; Peter, the clueless one; and Mike, the fatherly one -- didn't flame out so fast. Monkeemania continued through the '60s with hit songs (Last Train to Clarksville, I'm a Believer, (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone), seven albums, world concert tours, even a movie produced by Jack Nicholson (Head).

But it wasn't long before the backlash began. Labeled the Prefab Four, the Monkees were criticized for not playing instruments on their albums or writing their own songs. The show's producers had recruited successful songwriters such as Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond and Carole King to write many of the hits, and that didn't sit well with Nesmith and Tork.

"Peter, he had no patience for the whole thing. He'd come off stage and he didn't want to be a Monkee," Jones says. "Mike never wanted to be a Monkee. He really wasn't a team player. But Mike knew what he was doing.

"He had one of his songs on the B-side of every single," adds Jones, explaining that songwriters make more royalties. "So not only did [Nesmith's] mother invent Liquid Paper and he inherited $50 million, he also made three times as much money as we did every time a record was released."

Jones, who was only 20 when he was cast in the show, failed to capitalize on his early fortune.

"Even though my first check from the Monkees in 1967 for our first album was $240,000, which was like a million and a quarter these days, it was stolen from me by a business manager," he says. "And then I went into another situation, and another business manager stole from me. So it takes time to recover from that, and you get angry. And you lose faith."

***

By 1970, Jones had left Hollywood. But there was the matter of a certain sitcom appearance that sealed his place in pop culture's time capsule.

"Oh, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," Jones laughs. "Most people think I married Marcia Brady and moved to Ohio and had six kids."

Um, you mean you didn't?

"It's the most-played episode of any TV show ever, don't ask me why. But I slipped up, because Barry Williams [who played Greg] wrote an amazing book about sleeping with Marcia, and with the mother, and there I was stuck with Micky, Mike and Peter."

While the Monkees have reteamed for regular reunion tours over the years, all but one without Nesmith, it has been Jones and Dolenz who have kept the Monkee machine churning.

"Micky and I, we've always been partners, we've always been friends and we know what it's about," Jones says. "Micky was Circus Boy [the star of a '50s TV series]. I was Ena Sharples' grandson [on Coronation Street, the longest-running soap opera in England]. I was on Broadway. This is second nature to us."

That's part of the reason they're still touring. There are economic realities as well.

"Anything to pay the alimony," Jones jokes on stage at Billy Bob's.

But it wasn't long ago that he was "down to no money," he told CBS' 48 Hours in a recent report on teen idols. "When you've got everything, everybody wants to give everything. When you have nothing, nobody wants to give you anything."

With the support of his older sister, Linda, Jones rebounded. And now he's got houses in California, Florida and Beavertown, Pa. His stable of thoroughbred horses is thriving, and the Monkees, thanks to reruns on cable stations such as TV Land, are attracting a new generation of fans.

"I think the Monkees touched a lot of people. And now retro is very much in. That's why the kids keep looking at us," he says. "They don't see my gray hair, and they don't see that I'm a 56-year-old man, and they don't know I'm a grandfather."

I don't see it, either. Trim and tanned, he looks 45 at most. And on the bowling lane, he's 16 again.

"Towards the end of the second game, I lost my rhythm," he explains, wishing he'd had his own ball and shoes. "It's all about rhythm."

Unfortunately for Davy, I'd found mine. Final score: 226-122.

Afterward, Jones tells his manager that "it was embarrassing. I was so excited, and then he kicked my butt." He even jokes about putting together a pile of cash to keep me from writing about it.

But Jones, the eternal optimist, rebounds quickly and warns that next time he comes to Cowtown, I'd better be ready. He might just bowl that 300 game.

"My passion is not always to be the best. . . . But it's like Booker T. Washington said: 'Success is not to be measured by the position you reach in life but by the obstacles you overcome to reach that success.' "

Pointing at the pins, Jones delivers his final bowling metaphor: "Those are my obstacles out there. I gotta get over them. I don't want to be leaving pins standing on the lane anymore."

Final score Game 1: Davy 132, Rick 166 Game 2: Davy 122, Rick 226

Rick Press is a former Florida junior bowling champion and the features editor at the Star-Telegram. Reach him at (817) 390-7701 or rpress@star-telegram.com

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