David Cassidy, an actor and singer who became a teeny-bopper heartthrob in the early 1970s, starring as shaggy-haired guitarist Keith Partridge on the musical sitcom “The Partridge Family,” died Nov. 21 at a hospital near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 67.
His publicist, Jo-Ann Geffen, told the Associated Press on Saturday that he was hospitalized with liver and kidney failure. Cassidy announced earlier this year that he was suffering from dementia and would stop touring.
At the height of his popularity, Cassidy — who spent many summers as a regular at Saratoga Race Course —commanded a rabid fan base that drew comparisons to those of Elvis Presley and the Beatles, with the New York Times reporting that after a 21-year-old Cassidy’s gallbladder was removed in 1971, fans called for the singer’s gallstones to be covered in bronze and sold alongside clippings of his hair.
Cassidy’s entrails remained off the market, but for several years his likeness was emblazoned on posters, push-out cards, coloring books and lunchboxes, as the band he led on television — the Partridge Family, a true family outfit that featured his stepmother Shirley Jones – became one of the decade’s defining pop music acts, beloved by a mostly female audience and derided by critics who heard only bubble-gum blandness.
Loosely inspired by a six-sibling pop band called the Cowsills, the group was a spiritual successor to the Monkees, the “prefab four,” who became a hit act in the 1960s after starring in a television show of the same name.
Jones, an Oscar-winning dramatic actress from “Elmer Gantry” (1960) who was better known for her wholesome star turns in the movie musicals “Oklahoma!” (1955), “Carousel” (1956) and “The Music Man” (1962), played a widow who performs with her five musical children, traveling aboard a psychedelic bus from venues that ranged from a feminist rally to a maximum-security prison.
Cassidy was the group’s lead singer and guitarist. A skinny 20-year-old who still looked like a teenager, he said he had little in common with the staid, occasionally doltish youngster he played on television. The son of divorced show business parents — his father was Tony-winning actor Jack Cassidy — he nurtured a love of rock music and artistic pretensions, hoping to parlay his television work into more serious acting.
His character was joined on the show by siblings Laurie (Susan Dey), Tracy (Suzanne Crough), Chris (Jeremy Gelbwaks, later replaced by Brian Forster) and Danny (Danny Bonaduce), the wisecracking middle child whose clashes with manager Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden) provided much of the program’s humor.
The quintet sported matching vests and shoulder-length hair, and scored its first chart-topper with “I Think I Love You” (1970), a breezy pop song written by Tony Romeo for the program’s eighth episode:
Do you think I have a case?
Let me ask you to your face
Do you think you love me?
I think I love you!
Featured on the first of eight studio albums by the Partridge Family, the song was recorded with Cassidy, Jones and a group of studio musicians who replaced their younger counterparts on the show. It was followed by hits including “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted,””I’ll Meet You Halfway” and “I Woke Up in Love This Morning.”
Cassidy at times pushed back against the show’s family friendly brand of bubble-gum pop, initially refusing to record “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” because he thought it might affect his cool-guy image.
Cutting a deal with the show’s producers, he embarked on a solo career beginning with the 1971 record “Cherish,” and began performing to sold-out dance halls and stadiums.
“Attendance at a David Cassidy concert is an exercise in incredulity,” Life magazine reported in 1971. “Hordes of girls, average age 11 and a half, with hearts seemingly placed inside their vocal cords, shout themselves into a frenzy. … After, being unable to rip off a piece of David’s clothing or a hunk of his hair or a limb of his body, they rush out to buy David Cassidy records or posters or send away for mysterious items like the David Cassidy Lover’s Kit” — a souvenir that included a purported childhood photo album of Cassidy.
The singer donned form-fitting white jump suits on stage and became increasingly freewheeling in interviews, appearing seminude on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1972 and telling the magazine about his use of “grass and speed and psychedelics” in an accompanying article.
Cassidy later described himself as “emotionally stunted” and “paranoid” during this period, overwhelmed by the attention of his fans and the simultaneous demands of touring and acting. “I feel burnt up inside,” he told Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper in 1974, announcing his retirement from performing. “I’m 24, a big star … in a position that millions dream of, but the truth is I just can’t enjoy it.”
Soon after the interview, a farewell concert in London ended in a near-riot and the death of a 14-year-old girl who suffered a heart attack.
Cassidy, free of performance duties and acting, underwent a period of depression that he said culminated two years later with the death of his estranged father in a fire.
He veered from television to theater to music, eventually finding solace in breeding horses and slowly coming to terms with what he described as his unbreakable connection with Keith Partridge — “a shallow airhead,” as Cassidy described the character to Interview magazine in 1991, who was “supposed to be funny.”
“I didn’t ever think that people would assume I was that guy,” he continued, “but they did.”
David Bruce Cassidy was born in Manhattan on April 12, 1950. After his parents divorced, he moved to California with his mother, actress Evelyn Ward. He then returned to New York after completing high school and appeared in the disastrous 1969 Broadway musical “The Fig Leaves Are Falling.”
Written by parodist Allan Sherman, the show ran for just four performances but helped Cassidy land an audition for “The Partridge Family” later that year.
Cassidy experienced a brief television resurgence in the late 1970s, when he was nominated for a best-actor Emmy for his role as an undercover police officer in the NBC anthology series “Police Story.” The part resulted in a spinoff program, “David Cassidy: Man Undercover,” that was canceled in 1979 after one season.
Returning to the stage, he performed the title role in the Broadway production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” — replacing another former teen idol, Andy Gibb, in 1982 — and a decade later appeared alongside his half brother Shaun Cassidy in the Willy Russell musical “Blood Brothers.”
A self-titled album appeared in 1990, featuring the hit “Lyin’ to Myself,” and Cassidy steadily reestablished himself as a performer, singing his “Partridge”-era classics while appearing in programs such as the Donald Trump reality series “Celebrity Apprentice.”
He acknowledged a struggle with alcohol in recent years and found himself in the news for his tumultuous personal life, including drunken-driving charges — locally in Schodack — and a hit-and-run charge. His driver’s license was suspended, and he was sentenced to take alcohol-education courses.
His marriages to actress Kay Lenz, Meryl Tanz and Sue Shifrin ended in divorce. Cassidy had a daughter, actress Katie Cassidy, from a relationship and had a son, Beau Cassidy, from his third marriage. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
Publicity, Cassidy said, was not something he wanted after his time on “The Partridge Family.” In its place he sought a certain degree of anonymity.
“I have always tried to be someone who doesn’t get noticed,” he told the Times of London in 2006. “I wear a hat and glasses all the time. I try to be part of our society so I can exist without being a freak.”