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.
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.
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.
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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