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David Cassidy 1950-2017: Remembering A Teen Idol

Once upon a time a nine year old girl fell in love with the star of her very favorite TV show. She bought all of the teen magazines, all of the novel tie-ins, all of the comic books, and of course, all of the records. She put posters of her idol on the wall. She even had paper dolls and a matching outfit. While the show lasted four seasons, the little girl’s love for the teen idol never died and she followed the teen idol’s career for almost 50 years.

The TV show was The Partridge Family and that teen idol was David Cassidy. The little girl was me, and my heart was broken on November 21, 2017 when Cassidy passed away.

To say that Cassidy and The Partridge Family phenomenon was as profound as the Beatles is not an understatement. In addition to all of the fan items mentioned above, there was also an animated series and a board game. A Cassidy concert in London in 1974 saw a gate stampede that resulted in nearly 800 being injured, thirty of which were taken to a hospital, one of which later died.

Cassidy was born in 1950 to actor Jack Cassidy and actress Evelyn Ward. The couple divorced when David was very small, and Jack went on to remarry. Jack’s second wife was singer/actress Shirley Jones, who went on to become David’s onscreen mother in The Partridge Family. David’s career began in 1969 when he debuted in Broadway musical, The Fig Leaves Are Falling. The show closed after only four performances but David was destined for bigger things.

The Partridge Family began airing in 1970 and became a worldwide sensation. The Partridge Family told the story about a single mother and her five musical children who form a band and travel the country in a multi-colored bus. David, as Keith Partridge, was the lead singer. The Partridge Family’s first single, “I Think I Love You” went straight to number one on the pop charts. They released a whopping 10 albums while David also released five solo albums at the same time. David longed to be a serious musician and wasn’t exactly thrilled to be a teen idol but the response to his androgynous good looks, his charismatic smile, and his warm and funny tv persona was overwhelming and David saw his picture plastered on the walls of millions of girls across the globe. His concerts drew crowds of tens of thousands of people and produced mass hysteria, and the term Cassidymania was coined. To underscore the extent of the hysteria, David was almost deported from Australia in 1974 before a show because authorities feared someone might get hurt. David also became the first recording artist to have a hit with “I Write the Songs”, a top-20 record in Great Britain long before the song became Barry Manilow’s signature tune. Cassidy’s recording was produced by the song’s author-composer, Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys. Check it out here.

The death of the 14 year old in London affected David profoundly. He said that the death of Bernadette Whelan would haunt him until the day he died. After that, David stopped touring. He went on to star in an episode of Police Story in 1978, which led to a spin off called David Cassidy: Man Undercover, which only lasted one season.

David did his best to dispel his squeaky clean image in the 80’s. Rumors abounded in the mid to late 80’s that David had a serious problem with drugs and alcohol (his father Jack was an alcoholic who died in an alcohol related fire). In 1980 David declared himself broke, but still persevered, returning to Broadway in 1981 in Little Johnny Jones. David also starred in productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the London West End production of Time (I saw that!), and the musical Blood Brothers, in which he starred along with his half-brother Shaun Cassidy and the legendary Petula Clark.

In 1985, David released a single called “The Last Kiss” which featured backing vocals by the late George Michael which was included on the album Romance. These went gold in Europe and Australia, and Cassidy supported them with a sellout tour of the United Kingdom, which resulted in the Greatest Hits Live compilation of 1986. In 1989, he co-wrote the song “Prayin’ 4 a Miracle” with John Wetton and Sue Shifrin (who became Cassidy’s second wife). Wetton released the song on his band Asia’s album Then & Now the year after.

The multi-talented and driven David returned to the American top 40 with his 1990 single “Lyin’ to Myself”, released on Enigma Records. In 1998, he had an adult contemporary music hit with “No Bridge I Wouldn’t Cross” from his album Old Trick New Dog.

In concert performances in 1990, David hired his TV brother Danny Bonaduce as his warm-up act. In 1995, he hosted the VH1 show 8-Track Flashback, which ran until 1998. In 1996, he replaced Michael Crawford in the Las Vegas show EFX, rewriting it into one of the Strip’s favorite shows, although Cassidy was forced to resign after he injured his foot during a performance. He also created The Rat Pack is Back, in which he made guest appearances as Bobby Darin.

In 2000, David wrote and appeared in the Las Vegas show At the Copa with Sheena Easton, as both the young and old versions of the lead character, Johnny Flamingo. His 2001 album Then and Now went platinum internationally and returned Cassidy to the top five of the UK album charts for the first time since 1974. In 2005, he played the manager of Aaron Carter’s character in the film Popstar. He co-starred alongside his brother Patrick in a 2009 ABC Family short-lived comedy series titled Ruby & The Rockits, a show created by Shaun.

David was one of the contestants on Celebrity Apprentice in 2011, in which his daughter Katie Cassidy made a brief appearance at her father’s request. He was the first to be fired. In the following years, Cassidy maintained a regular tour schedule, with concert appearances across the USA and the UK, until his retirement and death in 2017.

As the days of “Cassidymania” subsided, David regularly addressed fans at his concerts in question-and-answer sessions. In August 2016, David performed in The Villages, Florida, and brought multiple attendees to the side of the stage, asking and answering questions and engaging with members of the community who had been fans for nearly a half century.

In addition to David’s battles with drug and alcohol addiction, he was diagnosed with dementia in 2017. He was an activist for Alzheimer’s research as his mother, Evelyn Ward, died of the disease. David was beginning to forget song lyrics and suffer from tremors. He stopped touring in February this year, and was hospitalized earlier this week with liver and kidney failure. He was 67 when he passed on Tuesday.
David might not have always seen himself as a “serious musician” but David’s music and acting performances touched millions of lives. He was committed to bringing song and life into people’s lives and he won’t be soon forgotten by those of us who have loved him for decades. If you are just now learning about David, his extensive musical library is available on iTunes and Amazon Music.

I leave you with David and The Partridge Family’s first top 40 hit, “I Think I Love You.”

RIP David Cassidy. You will be missed.

Written by Arlene Allen

Hello, my name is Arlene Allen, and I love all things nerd: genre tv and movies, books, loud rock and roll music, kittens, conventions, books, graphic novels and superheroes, RPG and tabletop games, and did I say books? Oh, yes. I spent 25 years as a librarian (nerd) mainly working with youth (creating nerds), a number of years as a teacher (more nerd indoctrination). I have my own spawn, leveled up to 22 and my partner in nerdiness. As a nerdy writer, I have found a home at Talk Nerdy With Us.

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  1. Great article. I grew up watching David on the Partridge family and he was a big part of my childhood.
    😉 You may want to change one piece of information. Sue Shifrin is actually the mother of Beau Cassidy. Katie’s mom is Sherry Williams.

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