David Cassidy, star of the 1970s TV show “The Partridge Family” and for a brief time the best-selling pop musician in the world, has died, his publicist said Tuesday night.
Cassidy, who was 67, had been admitted to intensive care at a Fort Lauderdale-area hospital Saturday where he was diagnosed with organ failure. In 2014, following a pair of widely publicized DUIs, he admitted to a longtime struggle with alcoholism, and announced earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with dementia.
Over a brief stretch in the early ’70s, Cassidy commanded the minds and especially hearts of millions of teenage fans around the world. Fame started with the ABC sitcom, but he soon catapulted beyond that, as a solo act that could fill arenas from New York to Melbourne, Australia. As a fabrication of television, his popularity surged past that other TV invention — the Monkees — but as a pop phenom, he sold six and half million albums and songs in 1971 and 1972.
Years later, writing in a 1994 autobiography, “C’mon, Get Happy: Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus,” Cassidy wrote, “if anyone had told me, in mid 1970, that by years’ end I’d be a household word, a best-selling recording artist, the number one teen idol with my picture on the back of Rice Krispies, I would have asked him if the acid had kicked in yet.”
As part of his contract with “Partridge” producer Screen Gems, he surrendered his image for use in a vast array of merchandise — from love beads to bubble gum — but also his profit participation. Years after “Partridge” fame, he continued to record and tour, while attempting, and failing, to restart a TV career. He filed for bankruptcy in 2015, citing bad investments and ongoing health issues that prevented touring.
David Bruce Cassidy was born on April 12, 1950 in Englewood, New Jersey, to veteran Broadway stars Evelyn Ward and Jack Cassidy. As a child he learned that they had been divorced for years, a blow from which “I never completely recovered,” he’d later write. But he also idolized his father, decided to pursue acting, and traveled into Manhattan from the home in West Orange, New Jersey, he shared with his mother and grandparents.
In 1956, his father married Shirley Jones, who had just starred in the screen adaptation of “Oklahoma!” (she would go on to win a best-supporting Oscar for “Elmer Gantry”). When both relocated to New York to star on Broadway, Cassidy moved in with them, then remained with them when they returned to California. By early ’70, Cassidy — who had turned 20 — had struggled to get even a few bit roles on a handful of series like “Mod Squad” and “Adam-12.” Then, arriving at an audition for a proposed ABC series, he was surprised to learn that his stepmother had already been cast.
“The Partridge Family” was created by Bernard Slade, a TV veteran who already had one hit — “The Flying Nun” — and was under contract with Screen Gems to find a successor to “The Monkees” which had ended in 1968. Inspired by the “family band” known as the Cowsills, his idea was centered around a group of kids who create a band, but then decide they need a supporting vocal — and who would just happen to be their mother. Already a big star, Jones was locked in, then the rest of the cast fell into place, including Cassidy as oldest son Keith, who played lead vocals, Susan Dey, as sister Laurie (piano and organ), Danny Bonaduce as Danny (bass) and the youngest, Suzanne Crough as Tracy (tambourine). Brian Forster — kid brother Chris, on drums — was added the second season.
Unlike “The Monkees,” Screen Gems had no interest in casting musicians other than Jones, and expected to dub the voices. The surprise — to them as well as to Cassidy — was that the actor playing Keith could actually sing.
Like so many series of the ’60s and early ’70s, the show’s entire premise was explained in the theme song, a particularly catchy one entitled “When We’re Singin’”:
“Five of us, and Mom working all day/we knew we could help her if our music would pay/Danny got Reuben (their cranky manager, played by Dave Madden) to sell our song, and it really/came together when Mom sang along...” In the show, the family traveled to gigs in a beat-up multicolored bus that was to become a star in its own right.
ABC slotted the show on early Fridays where it was expected to struggle. Then the next surprise: “The Partridge Family” was an instant hit. An episode which aired Nov. 13, 1970, contained a song called “I Think I Love You.” By Nov. 21, it was the top song on Billboard’s Hot 100, surpassing Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.”
By the end of the first season, Cassidy pursued a solo career while starring in the show and by 1974, he was selling out stadiums. During a concert at White City Stadium in London on May 26, 750 people were injured when thousands of fans rushed the stage. A 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Whelan, died four days later. At the inquest, the coroner ruled that she was “a victim of contrived hysteria,” according to news reports at the time.
As an actor and performer, Cassidy’s appeal wasn’t immediately apparent. His singing voice lacked power while Jones was the established star. His agent and manager, Ruth Aarons offered this appraisal to Rolling Stone for a 1972 cover story: “To me,” Aarons said, “David is the inherent consummate entertainer. He has an instinctive command of audiences. The way he leaps out and bounces around on the stage, his little yellings of ‘I love you’ — it’s exciting, and theatrically effective. He projects a joyful, affirmative sexual appeal. He does not infer destruction. Like Sinatra in the Forties he has that touchable, vulnerable, clean attraction.
“He is not, as some critics say, a hoax that’s being foisted on the public — a figment of someone’s imaginings, a put-on. He’s not a make believe performer.”
Publicist JoAnn Geffen released a statement Tuesday evening saying Cassidy had died “surrounded by those he loved with joy in his heart and free from the pain that had gripped him for so long. Thank you for the abundance and support you have shown him these many years.”