David Cassidy: Memories, Musings and Hard Truths

by Shawna Ortega

There is fame, fortune, spotlights, adoring throngs, and the Wonderful World of Oz awaiting those with talent who are tenacious enough to seek it out. There are also dark underbellies lurking behind the shadows of life in the scenes, the drugs, the perpetual hamster wheel, and the greedy money-grubbers who will happily flay the skin off your back if you're not savvy enough to protect it.

Ask anyone (who remembers) about David Cassidy and you will likely receive one of two answers. Fans will recite "I Think I Love You" and non-fans (think: men) will throw down, "The guy with the hair?" It's a sorry measure of a man's life when those are the two things most remembered about his career.

And David Cassidy was so much more than the sum of his parts.
If you are old enough to remember David Cassidy without Googling, you will remember the sleepy bedroom eyes, the impossibly long, thick eyelashes, the piercing good-time smile, and the goofy character he played on TV's The Partridge Family from 1970 to 1974.

But that will all come after the images assault you of the shining, gleaming, streaming brunet feathered 'do which he favored. And it favored him, too. Did it ever. I know this now after recently binge-watching all four seasons of The Partridge Family (yes, it got tedious, but overall it was pure bubblegum joy). Because when the Partridges were actually still around pretending to be a family on TV (and pretending to be playing musical instruments and singing), I was all of eight years old. I was existing under the weight of a crush I didn't understand, about which my big brother teased me mercilessly (because it was, in the family scheme, his job).

The other girls in the neighborhood, all older and much wiser than I, would let me look at their Tiger Beat and Teen magazines covered front, back, and all over inside with photos of David Cassidy. Squeeeeeee!!! But my folks never allowed me to buy one myself, so my worship was limited to borrowed time.

As far as I'm concerned, Cassidy was, is, and always will be the quintessential teen idol. In Cassidy's own estimation, however, he'd have rather have done anything else in life other than becoming Keith Partridge. As he wrote in his 2007 autobiography, Could It Be Forever?, he considered the role, the teenage adulation, and the resulting insanity of his daily life a burden he wanted no part of.

David was the child of Jack Cassidy, a serious actor who had made a name for himself with some respected film roles. He was an alcoholic and an absentee father who had zero respect for his young son or his musical or comedic talents. So David, bent on earning his father's respect by pursuing the latter's chosen profession, set off to become a serious actor, too.

And he almost made it. He landed a couple of one-offs on TV shows and drew respectable reviews. Then Sony Entertainment's Screen Gems began casting a new TV show about a widow and her five musical kids based loosely (very loosely) on real-life family the Cowsills.

Cassidy auditioned for the role of oldest son Keith Partridge after his real-life stepmom, actress Shirley Jones, had been cast as the mom of the clan and recommended him. Cassidy, just a naïve 20-year-old, was a natural.

Looking for actors to play the roles, Screen Gems folks weren't yet aware of the hole-in-one they scored with him. They figured on hiring actors who could act like musicians, pay them $700 a week, and dub in the music and vocals. They soon discovered in Cassidy they had the real deal: a talented guitar player with a voice and breathy delivery that was immediately identifiable, and nailed him down for the teen nation. They signed him to a seven-year contract, sat back, and waited.

A month before the show's debut on September 25, 1970, "I Think I Love You," which would become the Partridge's most recognizable song, had already become a radio staple. Girls all over the planet under the age of 25 were going about the business of making David Cassidy the hottest property on the market.

Cassidy's biggest post-Partridge hit in America was his cover of The Association song "Cherish," which reached #9 in 1971. He fared far better in the UK, where he remained a sensation, charting two #1 hits: "How Can I Be Sure" and "Daydreamer."
This is where Cassidy's life began teetering. Screen Gems, slavering to reap more and more profit from Cassidy's talent and image, ran him to the point of exhaustion. He would work on the show during the week, record songs after the day's filming ended, then travel the world performing two to three concerts per weekend to sell-out crowds. Screen Gems was making a mint while Cassidy was making the $700 per week his contract called for, and the barest minimum for the concerts.

And his father remained unimpressed.

As the juggernaut that was The Partridge Family powered steadily forward, the dark-side vortex sucked Cassidy into a lifestyle with which he could not keep up. Screaming silently for just one minute away from the perpetual keening of female voices, the demands of Screen Gems, and people making paychecks off his back - and there were many - were escalating him to a breaking point.

It came in the form of a Rolling Stone article in May of 1972 entitled "Naked Lunch Box." Looking back, it seems a rather mean-spirited article, but it accomplished its purpose: to expose Cassidy, the human being behind the teen idol. Much of it was Cassidy's own idea: the nude photos, the admissions about drug use, his hatred of all things Partridge (in particular, the music). It was the '70s version of Britney Spears' head-shaving meltdown; a plea for help from someone who had nowhere to hide.

Still, The Partridge Family writers plugged along, making Keith Partridge into a more bumbling dork than ever. And as much as Cassidy resented it, he somehow kept his professionalism - comedic timing intact - and continued his impossible schedule.

To Cassidy's relief, the Partridges went off the air in 1974. His agent hadn't brokered a very good deal for him, however, and of the magazines, lunchboxes, clothing, posters, paperbacks, coloring books, toys, beach towels, ad nauseam (if you can think of it, Cassidy's image was likely printed on it), he claimed in his book to have not received his share of any royalties.

Where does all this leave us? For me, I'd moved on to more mature musings. My by-then-12-year-old self was ensconced in junior high school and in the process of figuring out who I was. David Cassidy disappeared from my radar until a few years ago. I can't say what brought my thoughts back around to him, but I began researching and discovered his book, which, of course, I bought and read immediately.

The life he related following his meteoric rise to fame is something one could never understand unless you've lived it. In the 43 years after, there were marriages, divorces, the death of his father, the births of his children, alcoholism, bankruptcy, lawsuits, and abject sadness. There were also great triumphs, as he found his footing on the stage again, perhaps most notably in Blood Brothers (with his half-brother Shaun), and in his long-running shows in Las Vegas.

After living with dementia for several years (a diagnosis he disclosed only this past February), David Cassidy passed away on November 21st, 2017. He was just 67.

So much has been written and rumored about him; too many not-so-nice things. Writers told him to suck it up and quit complaining. He was wildly successful, women threw themselves at him continually, he was rich beyond belief, so what's the problem?

I don't see it that way. For my part, I find it unbearable a talented and genuinely nice guy who was in an untenable position lived with such sadness and regret in his life. The man he became never learned to deal with the rejection by his father of the young boy he once was. He gave the world a lifetime of memories. He deserved better in return. I hope he finds it.

November 26, 2017
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Comments: 15

  • Cassief from VirginiaDavid Cassidy was much more of an amazing talent than most people remember him. Without any concert playing experience, Cassidy stepped on stage and immediately started performing for stadium crowds. As a headlining act, he filled places like Dodger Stadium, and Madison Square Garden, along with other venues in Europe, Australia, and Japan. He re-invented himself over and over again and was successful each time. He was often a guest star on some of the most popular variety shows of that TV era. There was one with Glen Cambell - he doesn't even seem like he breaks a sweat doing all sorts of different songs. While Screen Gems abused him - it's too bad he did not have the right management behind him at the time to keep his talent going through the low times. Cassidy while being extremely talented, had issues. You need the right people surrounding you during those times to not fall into a black hole.
    He was loved and adored by millions of fans across the world - now if we could just get the critics to stop stressing those last few years when he seemed to be in a down spot.
  • Karen C from North Carolina I was enthralled with David Cassidy from the moment I first saw the debut of The Partridge Family. He paved the way to young womanhood for me. I have to say, he made me feel things I had never felt before. I saw him in concert twice. I remember being annoyed with the screaming, I just wanted to hear him sing, hear him talk. I also saw him in Vegas in 2000 at the Rio in At The Copa. He has been a part of my life for 49 years. I will always be a fan. He gave so much of himself. RIP sweet man..you will never be forgotten in my lifetime ❤️
  • Ishmael from Puerto Rico Very sad that American music critics ignored his solo efforts which were very good. I believe being ignored by those critics in the US, created a world of sadness and frustration for him. I'm a male, also a musician 65 yrs old and felt very sad about the negligence in the US market. I've bought most of his solo recordings, and I wish a dj out there had the guts to play those recordings. David rest in peace.
  • Lisa from CollinsShawna, do you have pics from the Friday night David performed Blood Broothers out by the stage door? Just from that night. I was with him there. Thanks, Lisa
  • Vanessa Vonrhein from Valencia, CaliforniaGreat article. I too find it hard to bear that such a nice, talented man had suffered so much after giving his public so much joy. It’s sad that he was not properly appreciated during his short time here with us. May he RIP.
  • Dale from Connecticut, UsaNice article but a couple of facts incorrect. His father was not a film actor at all, but wanted to be a movie star. He starred on broadway and did a few tv guest spots, so he was extremely jealous of his son because he made superstardom, which is what ‘he’ wanted for himself. Secondly, Shirley Jones did not recommend David for the Partridge Family -he auditioned and then they went and asked her how she felt about him working on the project and she gave a hugh “thumbs up”. I do believe that David couldn’t even enjoy his life because he couldn’t get his father’s love and approval—otherwise he would have appreciated being the most famous person in the world, with fan clubs larger than that of the Beatles or Elvis combined. Later in life, he did begin to appreciate it all. RIP, David. xoxoxo
  • Christine R. from Atlanta, Ga.Great article and so true. I loved David from the first time I saw him and loved his voice too. He was such a talented actor, singer and entertainer and gorgeous on top of everything. He "was" the original American Idol and I hope he realized how much he was adored. He was a sweet soul and his fans knew it, just another reason to love him as a person. RIP sweet man.
  • Jane Weir from EnglandThe sad thing is I don't think he ever realised how much many of his fans genuinely appreciated his real talent. A lot of us did 'get' what he was.really about. We grew up to be educated, intelligent, enlightened adults and our continuing deep affection for him is because we recognised the depth of his.talent and not.just his pretty face. So sad but he had happy times too.
  • Donna Burke from Baltimore David Cassidy was, and always will be the quintessential rock star and a legendary actor of television and stage. David Cassidy was the real deal. Talent oozing from every pore and he achieved leaps and bounds more than his father could ever dream of establishing himself as a solid strong entertainer in several genres. Besides that, David was a sweet, gentle and loving guy. May he rest in sweetest peace knowing that, while the critics may not have “gotten it,” (which is often the case), We did and we will never forget.
  • Susan Gabrik from Minnesota One day soon, David will experience the real life...with true joy in his heart...
  • Helen Hargest from England, UkI'm from the UK and I fell for David Cassidy in 1972 after hearing the openibg bars of Could It Be Forever and collecting photos of him in Jackie magazine every week. Then the Partridge Family artived on our TV screens too. His concerts were out of bounds for me agef 10. I grew up, went to university, got married. But I was always interested to hear what he was doing. Reader, I met him in 2008 and saw him 4 times in concert in 2008-2009 in both the UK and the US -making up for lost time. I'm so pleased I did. He was fanrstic on the stage -dynamic, energised and still had that amazing voice. It'seems hard to believe he is no longer with us. He was so much more than a good looking guy singing I Think I Love You. I still love him though. RIP David
  • Debra from New YorkRIP David .. you were so much more than a head of hair. You were so talented with a voice that could melt a candle without a flame. You are so deserving of so much more.. in life and now in death.
  • Katrina Long from Sydney AustraliaI love hearing about David my heart is still braking and brings me to tears i loved him back when i first saw him in Marcus welby md and the other ones Mod squad Adam 12 then when u saw him in The partridge family i knew he wad going to be great I met him for a brief moment when he came to Sydbey 1974 he held my hand a gave me a quick peck on the cheek then I lost touch until i started to watch him on line but my Partner at the time got jealous so i had to hide looking only went to the lybary My daughter asked me why i get so upset and i explained then she said why didnt you ever tell her for the same reason why ive hiden to this day how i feel and still do People have looked at me crazyly so you see My heart has been breaking for him for a long time Its like he had taken a peace of my heart with him RIP DAVID
  • Melanie Obremski from WisconsinReading this article, I was taken back to my youth and have so many memories of David! I had tickets to go see him in concert and he ended up having emergency surgery....never had a chance to see him again. It is tempting (and probably true) to think of David as a tragic figure.....I hate to think of him as sad at the end. I prefer to think of all the joy he brought..I hope he knew how he was loved and admired.
  • Opal from MarylandThank you for this. I have been surfing the web looking for thoughtful commentary on this man's life, and this piece is one of the very few I've found. I am grateful to you.

    Even the "New Yorker" wrote an "appreciation" that seemed to define him as a comforting presence because of a haircut. But he was not a shallow person or a minimal talent.

    He was an artist.

    He had a huge impact on my heart, on my life. I hope there is a Heaven, I hope he is there, and I hope he is feeling love and at last, can really receive it.
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