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Terry Kirkman, whose band the Association was a late-1960s hit machine, dies at 83

Terry Kirkman, a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter who was a founder of the 1960s pop group the Association, whose lush vocal harmonies and sugary melodic hooks propelled a string of indelible hits, including “Cherish” (which he wrote) and “Along Comes Mary,” died Saturday at his home in Montclair, Calif. He was 83.

His wife, Heidi Kirkman, said the cause was congestive heart failure.

A gifted musician who could play up to two dozen instruments, Mr. Kirkman and Jules Alexander, a guitarist and songwriter, formed the six-member Association in 1965. With a folk-inflected sound that was both sunny and sophisticated, the Association proved a veritable AM radio hit factory in its late-1960s heyday.

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The band’s debut album, “And Then … Along Comes the Association,” released in 1966, spawned two signature hits of the era: “Along Comes Mary,” which hit No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 that June, and “Cherish,” which reached No. 1 in August. The group's third album, “Insight Out,” released the next year, included two more Top 10 hits: “Never My Love” and “Windy,” the group's second No. 1 record.

Along the way, the Association made dozens of appearances on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and other television variety shows. It also made a mark on the big screen, recording four songs, including the title track for the 1969 film “Goodbye, Columbus,” starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw and based on a Philip Roth novella.

Despite the Association’s chart-topping success, the group was dismissed by some critics, in part because of its blazer-and-tie image and parent-friendly sound, which seemed dramatically out of step in a Los Angeles rock scene dominated by hard-edged, psychedelia-tinged bands like the Byrds and the Doors.

In a fitting symbol of the Association’s curious place in the 1960s pop pantheon, the band opened the first night of the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 but stood out as an odd fit at a boundary-pushing musical showcase in which Jimi Hendrix famously ignited his Fender Stratocaster onstage after a mind-warping set.

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The three-day explosion of rock and paisley, held at the height of the so-called Summer of Love, is still celebrated as an apotheosis of the hippie era, thanks in part to “Monterey Pop,” the landmark 1968 documentary directed by D.A. Pennebaker.

“It was an honor, it was historical, and it was really bad,” Mr. Kirkman said of the band’s Monterey performance in a 2015 interview with music blogger Bo White. “We were the soundtrack and lighting check for the Monterey Pop Festival.”

Their performance included a high-school-level comedy skit that they had used on television, in which the band members pretended to be robots booting up one by one. It was, Mr. Kirkman added, “one of the worst mistakes that we ever, ever, ever, ever did.”

He said that John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, who was one of the festival’s organizers, “just said to me bluntly a couple of years later, ‘So sorry you weren’t in the film. You didn’t fit the image.’”

But the Association’s relatively square public profile also helped broaden its audience to multiple generations. Mr. Kirkman’s intricate compositions like “Cherish” and “Everything That Touches You” called to mind Burt Bacharach.

Mr. Kirkman laid down the basis of “Cherish” in less than seven minutes, he said in a 2015 interview with the music website The College Crowd Digs Me, while sitting down with his first wife, Judith, who had just turned the television dial to “The Tonight Show.” “When I finished it, I was just barely into Johnny Carson’s monologue,” he said.

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A delicate, intricately crafted love song, “Cherish” became ever-present on oldies radio over the decades, and wove its way into countless movies and television shows.

But, Mr. Kirkman told the site, “It’s not always a compliment,” adding, “‘Cherish’ has been used as a gag for being a kind of conservative, old-fashioned song in an otherwise hip movie.”

This was particularly galling to Mr. Kirkman, a staunch liberal who included an anti-war song, “Requiem for the Masses,” as the B-side of the “Never My Love” single.

“I am a natural-born civil rights activist from Kansas, and I was on the road with three guys who were really conservative, reactionary people,” he told White. “I stood back thinking, ‘That’s cool. That’s completely fair.’ You know, walk and talk, live your life. But it’s not the art that I want to make. I want the art to be about something besides jumping in the back seat, kiss me, doo-wop, doo-wop.”

Terry Robert Kirkman was born Dec. 12, 1939, in Salina, Kansas, the youngest of two sons of Millard and Lois (Murphy) Kirkman. When he was a child his family moved to Chino, California, near Los Angeles, where his father managed an auto-parts store and his mother taught music.

After receiving an associate degree in music at nearby Chaffey College, he became enmeshed in the flourishing scene at the Troubadour, the famed West Hollywood nightclub that served as a launching pad to stardom.

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Before long, Mr. Kirkman and Alexander — whom he had met at a party in Hawaii in 1962, when Alexander was in the Navy — formed a loose-knit folk ensemble called the Inner Tubes, featuring some 20 members, to perform at open-mic hootenanny nights at the club, with guest appearances by the likes of David Crosby and Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas. The Inner Tubes eventually evolved into a 13-member band called the Men, which after a year winnowed down to the Association.

In addition to his wife of 30 years, Mr. Kirkman is survived by his daughter, Alexandra Sasha Kirkman, from his first marriage, which ended in divorce, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Kirkman left the Association in 1972, although he would later rejoin the band for tours in the 1980s and ’90s. He eventually retired from the music business and worked for decades as an addiction counselor.

But he could never escape his most famous creation.

“My whole name for 45 years was, ‘I would like you to meet Terry, he wrote “Cherish,”’” he told White. “That was my whole name.”

He added, “I’m just going to shorten my name to Cherish.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.