‘It’s no fun when they rip your clothes’: The life and death of hearthrob David Cassidy

Obituary: One of the first pop talents to became famous through TV, stardom took its toll on the green-eyed teen icon

Actor and musician David Cassidy has died aged 67, known for television show "The Partridge Family" he also had a string of hits in the 1970s.

 

David Cassidy, the actor, singer and teen heartthrob was best known for his role as the band member with the green eyes and the feathered haircut on the 1970s television sitcom The Partridge Family. Cassidy, who died on Tuesday of liver failure at the age of 67, rose to fame on playing Keith Partridge, the eldest of five children in a family that forms a band and goes on tour in a multicolored bus. His character, a high school student, was periodically swooned over by young women as he learned to navigate his newfound fame.

Pop star David Cassidy, who has died aged 67, arriving at Heathrow Airport in London for his a concert tour in May 1974. Photograph: PA
Pop star David Cassidy, who has died aged 67, arriving at Heathrow Airport in London for his a concert tour in May 1974. Photograph: PA

It was 1970, with the turbulent late 1960s of the Vietnam War, race riots, psychedelia, Woodstock and Altamont barely past, when Cassidy got the lead role on the show, overseen by the same producers as The Monkees. He had a face youthful enough to portray a teenager, a shy smile and friendly eyes, and he could sing well enough to portray Keith Partridge without having to lip-sync someone else’s voice.

Even in the FM-radio heyday of Black Sabbath, the Allman Brothers and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, there was a place for a well-groomed, unthreatening young pop singer. Cassidy became one of the teen idols of the early 1970s, arriving between Bobby Sherman and Donny Osmond and decades before Justin Timberlake or Charlie Puth and aggressively marketed through Top 40 radio and fan magazines as a wholesome fantasy figure for young girls. Soon after The Partridge Family began airing, he had a No 1 hit, I Think I Love You.

The Partridge Family lasted from 1970 to 1974, a respectable run for a teen idol. In 1972, in what he later recalled as a career peak, Cassidy headlined Madison Square Garden, wearing the kind of white jumpsuit Elvis Presley also favored in the 1970s. By then, Cassidy was already weary of incessant career demands and squealing mobs.

“Oh, they’re cute. They get flustered and I get flustered, and it’s all kind of fun,” Cassidy said of his devotees in 1972, when he was 21. “But it’s no fun when they rip your clothes and take rooms next door in hotels and keep pounding on the door and slipping notes under it.”

In an attempt to spice up his squeaky-clean image, Cassidy posed nude in a photo shoot for Rolling Stone in 1972. In the cover article, he said he was already dreaming about the end of his acting career. “I’ll feel really good when it’s over,” he said. “I have an image of myself in five years. I’m living on an island. The sky is blue, the sun is shining. And I’m smiling, I’m healthy, I’m a family man.”

Cassidy was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1970, and his 1972 solo album Cherish went gold. The Partridge Family, meanwhile, had six albums achieve that certification from 1970 to 1972. According to an online biography of The Partridge Family by Ed Hogan, Cassidy and his co-star and real-life stepmother, the Academy Award-winning actress Shirley Jones, were the only cast members on the television show heard on the group’s records, with Cassidy a lead vocalist and Jones on background vocals.

David Cassidy in concert at Madison Square Garden, New York, in March 1972. Phgotograph: Ernie Sisto/The New York Times
David Cassidy in concert at Madison Square Garden, New York, in March 1972. Phgotograph: Ernie Sisto/The New York Times

Cassidy was among the early pop talents who came to notice through television. Reviewing Cassidy’s 1972 concert at Madison Square Garden, Don Heckman wrote in The New York Times: “What happened at Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon was less a musical event than a love feast, less a concert than a symbolic announcement of what pop music might become. The focus of it all was David Cassidy, singer and star of television’s The Partridge Family, and the current idol of almost every 13 year old girl in America.”

A cover from Jackie magazine, which offered a full-size poster of the star over three issues
A cover from Jackie magazine, which offered a full-size poster of the star over three issues

“At the close of his program he sang his hit song, Cherish, and there are people there who would have been very happy to do just that,” Heckman wrote. “But I suspect that their affection had more to say about the manipulative powers of television and recordings than it did, about David Cassidy.”

After The Partridge Family ended, Cassidy pursued an adult career, in and out of acting and music for the next several decades. And like Presley, he eventually had his own stints in Las Vegas, notably a mid-1990s arena spectacle titled EFX. He never equaled his early popularity, but he stayed in show business to the end.

In later years, Cassidy wrote books about the toll stardom had taken on him, and about his own struggles with substance abuse. He revealed this year that he had dementia. After watching his mother struggle with dementia, he worked with organisations to educate others about Alzheimer’s disease.

Cassidy was born on April 12, 1950, in New York City to actors Jack Cassidy and Evelyn Ward, grew up in West Orange, New Jersey, and moved to California when he was still a boy. He struggled in school but began taking small parts in plays and on television, eventually leading to his big break on “The Partridge Family.”

Cassidy worked on several other television series. A 1978 appearance on Police Story earned him an Emmy Award nomination, and he was fired by Donald Trump on The Celebrity Apprentice in 2011.

Cassidy was married and divorced three times. He is survived by his son Beau, a musician; his daughter Katie, an actress; Jones; and three half brothers: Shaun (who had his own moment as a teen heartthrob in the late 1970s), Patrick and Ryan. – New York Times Service

David Cassidy performing during the opening of his show ‘At the Copa’ in in Las Vegas, February 2000. Photograph: Glenn Pinkerton/ LVNB via EPA
David Cassidy performing during the opening of his show ‘At the Copa’ in in Las Vegas, February 2000. Photograph: Glenn Pinkerton/ LVNB via EPA