On Peter Tork, Celebrity, And Morbid Self-Released Press Releases

Mar 5th, 2009 // 15 Comments

Bad news first: we received word that Peter Tork of the Monkees has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer: adenoid cystic carcinoma, a head and neck cancer that usually affects the salivary glands but was found on his tongue. The people behind Idolator are big fans of the Monkees, and we certainly wish him the best in his recovery. Tork remains chipper about the situation:

“It’s a bad news, good news situation,” explains Tork, “It’s so rare a combination (on the tongue) that there isn’t a lot of experience among the medical community about this particular combination. On the other hand, the type of cancer it is, never mind the location, is somewhat well known, and the prognosis, I’m told, is good.”

Now for the weird news: we got tipped off to this from a press release that came from… Peter Tork.

Yep, Tork’s camp sent out the press release announcing the cancer diagnosis and the surgery, and fleshing out the story with quotes, Tork’s backstory, and a listing of tour dates with Shoe Suede Blues, his new band. Far be it from me to accuse someone of being crass who was just diagnosed with a rare form of a cancer, but as Maura asked me, “Who sends out a press release about their cancer?”

Here is my non-cynical take: Peter Tork was a member of the Monkees, a huge band in their day, with millions of fans all over the world. The press release is good-natured and includes a link to a Web site for those who want to educate themselves on the disease. Celebrities with diseases often use their pulpits to help raise awareness, which is admirable; Natalie Cole sent one out last year about her battle with Hepatitis C.

His people probably thought that fans would genuinely like to know what was happening to him, and, hey, throw some tour dates there on the end while we’re at it; if nothing else, it shows how hopeful Tork is about his own recovery.

I think that part of the ooginess I felt while reading this release-–and part of Maura’s reticence in covering it-–is that, in this age of reality shows and Twitters and Perez Hilton, it’s hard to take an announcement like this at face value. A Google News search for “Peter Tork” brings up 27 recent articles about his cancer—that’s 27 more people talking about him than were yesterday. Press releases like this aren’t uncommon; I’ve even heard tales of publicists shopping artists with diseases to publications to manufacture press.

There’s a delicate balance to be struck between getting the facts out there and self-promotion. I once had a band member die in a bad van accident on the eve of an album’s release, and I struggled with mentioning the product in any statement I sent out. Hell, just sending out a statement was an issue. Ultimately, it came down to story management (a big part of a PR person’s life); facts needed to be straightened out, so I presented them as best I could while being respectful.

Daniel Gill of independent promo company Force Field PR encountered a similar situation with the recent passing of Telefon Tel Aviv’s Charlie Cooper on the eve of the duo’s album release. In the end, Gill and Cooper’s bandmate Joshua Eustis of the band decided to eschew a press release, instead directing all inquiries to Eustis’ statement on Telefon Tel Aviv’s MySpace. Gill says they did this out of respect for Cooper’s family and to have one central statement to control the details of the story.

An additional dark side of both of these kinds of stories (beyond the human tragedy, of course) is that a hook like a disease (or a marriage, or a baby) often results in interest from publications that might not have covered these artists before. Maybe the problem is ours, and not that of the people sending out the releases.

1960′s Pop Idol from The Monkees, Peter Tork, Announces He Has Cancer [Billboard Publicity Wire]


  1. Anonymous

    I can kind of see him wanting to beat the tabloids and gossip sites- and maybe he needs/wants to work to pay the presumably hige medical bills. Hope he beats this…

  2. Chris N.

    Getting his own version out ahead of the inevitable “MONKEE’S SAD LAST DAYS!” headlines might be reason enough.

    If Tork were here in Nashville he would have already written a tender ballad about having cancer and it would be on iTunes later today.

  3. Lucas Jensen

    @Chris N.: I think that control of the story is the most important element of any of these. And he’s not really plugging an album, only a few shows.

  4. Chris N.

    … and the shows are months away. I’m gonna give him a pass.

  5. revmatty

    I see nothing wrong with it, I’m with Chris N. and Lucas. Plus, it’s Peter Tork. I’d give him a pass anyway.

  6. NeverEnough

    Monkees fan here. And when you have cancer, you should be allowed to do whatever the fuck you want. Until you’ve had a loved one die from it, you have no idea exactly how awful it is. Hope he recovers.

  7. Reidicus

    The guy from Telefon Tel Aviv died? That totally sucks. I love everything that band has ever done.

  8. Anonymous

    @whoneedslight: No, it would be a “Monkee on his deathebed story.” And while it wouldn’t be the big story on the cover, they’d definitely snipe it someplace at the top or bottom.

  9. Anonymous

    You know, you really must get off on kicking a man when he’s down. As much as we fans wish to God it wasn’t true, Peter does have cancer and is recovering from his surgery. To insinuate he either sent out the press release to promote himself or his band, or made the whole thing up is beyond reprehensible. Did you ever stop to think he sent out the release because

    A. He knew word of his illness would get out and he wanted it to come from him and

    B. Maybe, just maybe he wanted..needed all the support he could get? And damn it he deserves it!

    You owe Peter an apology.

  10. Faster

    Or, a seedy media outlet got the scoop, called Peter’s camp demanding comment and threatening to run a story with/or without it and so they issued the press release to pre-empt that and ensure the truth of Peter’s health and battle are available/out there.

  11. Halfwit

    @SueW: a) First post, only post


    b) apparently didn’t read the article (learned about it from a forum post?).

    Jonas Brothers, be damned: looks like everyone’s got a webring nowadays.

  12. KikoJones

    I can see Peter Tork not wanting his illness to be part of some TMZ-type bullshit. Who would?

    So, in the midst of the current circumstances, I’m gonna listen to Tork’s first ever composition: “For Pete’s Sake” and wish him a speedy recovery.

  13. grainy16mm

    I, for one, am going to go listen to “Come On In” from Missing Links Vol. 2, and silently wish him the best.

  14. Anonymous

    I’m voting face value. I don’t even think the Enquirer would headline a “Peter Tork on his deathbead” story. I love The Monkees and am wishing him the best.

  15. chartguy

    This is an extremely rare disease. It affects about 1,000 people a year in the US. While it is a “cancer”, it is extremely atypical. Cancer cells typically multiply very rapidly. Chemotherapy works by interfering with that process. ACC cells do not multiply rapidly, so there is no chemotherapy. Typically, patients are treated with surgery and radiation, often losing their ability to taste food. Sadly, it is also a very persistent disease. It is not unusual for patients to be diagnosed and treated and live ten to twenty years. It is unusual for them to completely rid themselves of it. It follows nerve cells and typically ends up in the lungs. Patients with ACC in their lungs have often survived 10 years or more.
    The disease was first recognized after the US nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan. There were over 100,000 cases. That leads some to speculate that some of the rare radioactive elements produced in the explosion may be a cause for ACC.

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