I didn’t sleep well last night because I had just learned that David Cassidy died. I didn’t sleep well the night before because I knew he was gravely ill and there was no hope he was going to get better. I don’t know if David Cassidy was a part of my family or I was a part of his, but for the four years that The Partridge Family ran, I was in their living room every week. In fact, I was in it twice a week because the station in Steubenville ran the previous week’s episode on Wednesday evenings and I rigged an elaborate antenna system to bring it in—this being a time just before the dawn of cable television. At first it was a mad crush on Susan Dey that drew me, but then I got engaged on an intellectual level through episodes centered around Laurie’s push for equal rights for women, or the family’s commitment to save whales from extinction, or my favorite plot of all: Danny wanders off and enlists the militant Black Panthers to save nightclub owners Lou Gossett and Richard Pryor. It was the first time I realized that black was cool, and I’ve thought so ever since.
The Partridge Family was my dirty little secret. At a time when all the other guys were talking about the latest from Alice Cooper or Deep Purple or a Led Zeppelin on the rise, I was coming home from school, tearing up to my room, and losing myself under headphones to the music of The Partridge Family. What’s funny is that about three years into the show, I found out one of my best friends was keeping the same secret about the same band. Even then as a kid I knew that The Partridge Family songs were being written and performed by some of the finest talents in Southern California, award-winning songwriters and first-rate backup singers and musicians. They’d go on to work with Springsteen, Jim Croce, and others. Don’t get me wrong; I still loved Alice and Bad Company and Mott the Hoople—I just loved the Partridges more. I still do.
Some years back Mary and I met up with Shirley Jones and I wanted to tell her how much she meant to me as Shirley Partridge. I wanted to see if she remembered my mom’s best friend, who knew Shirley from the Rainbow Girls in West Newton, Pennsylvania. I had all these things prepared, but when we were face to face, all I could choke out was, “I love you.” That’s the effect The Partridge Family and Shirley as a second mom had had on me.
I just wanted to take a minute to pay tribute to Shirley’s step-son David Cassidy as a terrific singer with a phrasing that was unique and powerful. It’s a shame he got pigeonholed in the genre of “bubblegum pop” because he was more than that. He wowed ’em in concert all over the world and made and lost a fortune doing it. He made the cover of Life and Rolling Stone. He really was the biggest heartthrob of them all. About five years ago, Mary and I went to see him in a concert-in-the-park setting and were astonished that the same females who had idolized him 40 years earlier were in the front row screaming and waving signs and album covers. For these women he never lost his magic, and as he performed the Partridge hit parade—an evening 100 percent devoted to that music because it’s what the people came to see—I realized how much he had grown to love the songs because that’s the way he talked about them, as cherished old friends. I don’t think he always felt that way, because they’re simple songs about seeing a girl, or falling for a girl, or loving a girl, or losing a girl. It was very much early-Beatles influenced music with a lot of heart, and I guess that’s what he came around to in the end. As a matter of fact, Cassidy passed on the 47th anniversary of the single I Think I Love You going to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. How’s that for weird?
Unfortunately for David Cassidy, there were demons hidden in the genes of his parents, and in many ways the years were unkind. But as my friend Johnny Ray Miller put it last night on Facebook, “We lost an entertainer of magnificent proportions, but saddest of all, we lost a good man. A simple man at heart.” Johnny should know—he wrote When We’re Singin’, the definitive Partridge Family book, and David Cassidy contributed the introduction. Johnny had met and interviewed nearly all the key people involved in the show and the music, and I know by the depth of his mourning that underneath it all, David Cassidy must have been a fine fellow. I’m glad, because the show and the music that he helped to create are big parts of how I became me.
I know it’s only rock and roll.
But I like it!
As one of those who would’ve been screaming from the front row, thank you for this. I felt the same way as you when I heard the day before he passed that his death was imminent and terribly sad on the day he died. And I felt the same way when I read 18 months ago that he lost his Florida driver’s license after leaving the scene of a crash. This after 3 DUIs since 2010. Demons, indeed. He was in a downward spiral. See, I continued to check in on my girlhood crush, always hoping he’d find his way to a life of sobriety and peace. Grateful his drinking and driving didn’t kill anyone. When he lost his license, I remember reading he would be without it for five years until 2021. I remember thinking if he lives that long. [sigh]
Thank you for this beautiful tribute, Robert. I was both surprised and delighted to find that you are a fan of David Cassidy and “The Partridge Family” as I am. I was surprised because what are the odds that a person with whom I’d been chatting a few years ago about Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland was also a Partridge/Cassidy fan! (I’m also a great fan of Jimmy Stewart and Carole Lombard. What are the odds?)
I too was devastated at the news of David’s health crisis and I’m grief stricken by his death. I’ve loved him since childhood, although I was very young and saw him primarily as the guy on the poster in my older sister’s bedroom, as well as the stunningly pretty Keith Partridge on my favorite television show, “The Partridge Family.” I was not one of his screaming little fans, because I didn’t think of him in that way. I was too young. To me he seemed like a sweet young guy who could be my friend and sing to me and maybe be my dream big brother. Yes, his looks appealed to me. Of course, I loved the music. I loved his voice. Later, I realized that he was a highly skilled and accomplished performer, never given proper credit for being a fine comic actor, which is more difficult to do well than dramatic acting. His singing voice was incredibly good. He was fortunate to have had the best songwriters of his day to write songs tailored to his style, and the best musicians (The Wrecking Crew) to accompany his singing. He was especially lucky to have a stepmother-from-heaven, the gorgeous and gifted Shirley Jones, to be his co-star and to provide him with the necessary emotional support when the tsunami of worldwide fame hit him at such a tender age, as it had hit her when she was in her teens.
I have a copy of a 1983 interview with Shirley in which she was asked about her boys, and she said that the one she worried about the most was David, because he was so sensitive. She always considered him to be a son, not just a stepson. She also helped him with his relationship with his dad, Jack Cassidy, whom he idolized and who (in my opinion) was the ultimate source of his internal turmoil. His father was one of the finest theatrical actors of all time.
I am glad that David came to embrace his early work. He seemed so conflicted about the show and the role that had launched his musical career and brought him lasting fame. He loved most of the Partridge songs, because they were of such high quality, despite his own professed preference for blues and harder rock, but he longed to be taken seriously, and unfortunately and unfairly it was often dismissed as bubblegum pop. He was woefully undercompensated for the use of his name and image during the Partridge era, which explained much of his love/hate feelings for Keith Partridge. I hope he realized in the end that he had created an iconic, sweetly charming character whose style greatly impacted the 1970s. The shag cut, the puka shell necklace, the groovy clothes. He gave happiness to so many of us. I know he knew that.
When he announced his retirement from touring for health reasons, I was sad, because I had tickets to finally see him in concert in Mentor, Ohio, but he canceled that particular show. I was mostly sad because I knew he wasn’t feeling well. On his Facebook page, fans wrote heartfelt pleas to him asking him not to stop touring, others told him to have a good life or expressed their love for him. I simply wrote a short note thanking him for sharing his gifts with the world, and to always remember that his family was his greatest and most important treasure. I’m pretty sure I was the only person who said that. I sensed he would not get better unless he was near his family. He needed their love and support. It is some solace that they were together again in the end. I’m so glad about that. I think David realized how much he needed his family in the end, that they were his true treasure, since his last words were, “So much wasted time”. Happy trails, David. I know that heaven is a more beautiful place with you in it.
I guess to put it simply, Bonnie: We have great taste in common. Your sentiments about David Cassidy and his impact on your life have really classed up my site! It’s a tragedy that only in death do the tributes flow, and he’ll never know or comprehend how powerful he really was or what a void he has left. I used to think a lot about that flawed soul, Errol Flynn. How could such an unhappy person, such a tortured soul who didn’t like himself at all, come to grips with all the incalculable joy that he brought to the world? Somehow it turns into a burden, and all you see is what’s in front of you: People who want to talk, touch, hound you for an autograph, get in your way. Most of those people have been touched by your art; what you see is that they have unrealistic expectations because you are inhabiting that body they want a piece of, and you know exactly how flawed you really are. I hope you’re right in David’s case that before the end he came to grips with the fact that he gave people happiness and enriched their lives.
I hadn’t heard what his last words were. They indicate that he learned a lot in this life, and that’s really what it’s all about.
Yes, Robert, it must be our good taste that we have in common! Thank you so much for your kind words. Coming from you, that means quite a lot. I think what you’ve described here with regard to both Errol and David and their attitude toward celebrity is very true. It explains a lot, and I thank you for pointing it out.
David’s daughter, Katie, tweeted her father’s last words shortly after he passed away. His brother, Patrick, also just gave a brief interview in which he said that David had contacted him for the first time in a significant amount of time about three months ago. (David had isolated himself from the family for a few years, I think due to his alcoholism.). David clearly wanted to reconnect with his family. They were at his side in the end, so yes, I think he realized that he should have reached out to them much sooner, just reached out and told them he loved them. But it’s still a blessing they were there for him at the end.