The thing about David Cassidy is that he was (and always will be) remembered fondly as the teenage heartthrob he was back in the 1970s. Heck, he was Keith Partridge! The kid was the poster boy of his era – the guy every girl wanted to be with, and every boy wanted to be. He was talented, successful and, oh, just so darn cute.
But, of course, there are two sides to every coin. Under the glare of the limelight hides the hidden part, a dark side. And, boy, did David Cassidy have a dark side. At the end of the day, up until his very last, he was, deep down, just a boy longing for a father.
A Boy in His Father’s Shadow
Of course, David Cassidy had a dad, and his name was Jack Cassidy, an actor and Broadway star. But Jack walked out on David’s mother, and in many ways, out of his son’s life. It seems as though for the rest of David’s life, he was living in his father’s shadow.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as was the case with this father and son. David ended up becoming an alcoholic, just like his father was, despite never having grown up with him. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have any contact with his dad. He did; it was just strained.
Mom Onscreen, Stepmom in Real Life
Before he became Keith Partridge, David was a struggling actor and musician. Then, suddenly, in 1970, he got the role of a lifetime on the hit TV show The Partridge Family. The woman who played his mother onscreen, Shirley Jones, was his actual stepmom, who was married to Jack.
You would think that such a crazy connection would bring him and his father closer, but that wasn’t the case. David had only fleeting moments with his dad. Perhaps Jack was jealous of his son, whose career was rising as his own was fading. His pride got the better of him and prevented him from having any significant conversations with his son.
Losing His Dad in a Fire
Apparently, Jack never could muster up the courage to tell his son how proud he was of him. Tragically, the day never came as Jack died in 1976 when David was 26 years old. He died one night in a fire after falling asleep with a lit cigarette.
Needless to say, David was devastated. No fame, money, or adoring girl fans could fill the void that David’s father left in him. The boy was doomed. But what did the media care? His face was still plastered on walls, lunch boxes, comic books and everything else that could be sold to the masses.
Hitting Rock Bottom
If there’s one thing money and fame can’t buy, it’s love. Especially the love of a parent. David could have used a father figure when, at the peak of his fame, he hit rock bottom and wanted out of The Partridge Family. A big part of his decision to quit was an event that took place on May 26, 1974.
While still filming The Partridge Family, David experienced a turning point in his music career. During one of the shows on his world tour, a gate stampede in London’s White City Stadium saw 800 people injured at the front of the stage.
The 1974 Concert Stampede
30 people were rushed to the hospital; one of them, a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Whelan, died four days later. David was deeply affected by it. He chose not to make the girl’s funeral a spectacle and opted out of attending the service.
He did, however, speak to her parents and send flowers. At the time, David said this event would haunt him until the day he died. Chances are it did. Things only got worse from then on.
The Fans Couldn’t Ignore It
David wanted to be a “real” actor and be taken seriously as an artist. With his sorrows came the bottle; he turned to alcohol as a source of comfort. (He came out with his addiction in 2008.) By the time he reached his 60s, he was still performing music, but fans couldn’t help notice that David couldn’t remember the lyrics to many of his older songs.
Things got worrisome when he started slurring his words. David was even arrested three times for driving under the influence, and the last two times were six months apart.
His Shocking Confession
In 2017, with his steep decline, it was believed that the aging performer had dementia. He himself blamed the disease in an announcement in February 2017. But David finally admitted that all his issues were really due to his alcoholism, and the confession came as a shock to many.
He finally admitted, “There is no sign of my having dementia at this stage of my life. It was complete alcohol poisoning.” In the documentary David Cassidy: The Last Session, he stated solemnly, “I did this to myself to cover up the sadness and emptiness.”
How Did David Cassidy Die?
Cassidy died of liver failure on November 21, 2017, at the age of 67. David’s last words, according to his daughter, were “So much wasted time!” In the documentary, he was seen struggling to finish a song he was working on, called Songs My Father Taught Me.
He just couldn’t hit the right note, and so he asked the producer to play his father’s version of the same song. He then broke out in tears, crying out, “Dad, I miss you!”
(I’m not crying, you are…)
His Final Days
The producer of the documentary was a woman named Saralena Weinfield, and she taped her phone conversations with David “to prepare for filming.” David was aware of the calls being taped, but neither of them was expecting the unforeseen 180 that happened when he became severely ill.
While in the hospital, he confessed to Weinfield that he was still drinking (despite repeatedly denying it). It was after that phone call with Weinfield that he passed away. That conversation can be heard in the documentary. “The audience is really hearing what I was hearing,” the producer shared.
He Knew He Would “Disappear”
David reportedly always expected that he would eventually fall prey to the memory-destroying brain disorder. He had seen his father and mother “disappear” from it as well. “I was in denial, but a part of me always knew this was coming,” he told People magazine.
It was literally a day after TMZ posted a video of him at an L.A. concert slurring his words and forgetting his lyrics that David came out with his health issues. The media was under the impression that he had “fallen off the wagon.”
He Had to Tell His Mom’s Story
It was known that the former teen heartthrob had a long struggle with alcohol abuse, including a rehab stint in 2014. Not everyone knew, however, that dementia was in his blood (so to speak). His mother, actress Evelyn Ward, died at 89, five years before her son.
After her death, David become a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation. He went around the country talking about his mother’s dementia. He wanted to use his celebrity to do good.
His Stepdad Kept Him in the Dark
Evelyn Ward was seen on Broadway and in TV shows like Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey. According to David, he never experienced his mother’s decline because, for one, she lived in another state and, thus, they didn’t see each other often.
But then there was her husband, who apparently came from a different generation – one that saw dementia as making someone “senile” and “crazy.” Ashamed of the matter, he would always cover for her and assure him that his mom was doing just fine.
Then He Got a Call From the Police
Only a few months after his mother’s husband died, David heard from a friend of hers that she wasn’t doing well. Less than two days later, David got a call from the police. They told him that his mother was found in the street in her nightgown, crying.
That’s when Cassidy learned his mother had been struggling with dementia for months or possibly years. “To watch someone who raised you, who was so vibrant, is the most painful thing I ever experienced.” David was finding it hard to stay afloat…
A Downward Spiral
A month after his third DUI arrest, in January 2014, his third wife, Sue Shifrin-Cassidy, filed for divorce. A year later, David filed for bankruptcy. That fall, he was charged in a hit-and-run crash in Fort Lauderdale after having sideswiped a truck.
What made the whole thing even worse (and illegal) was the fact that he tried to cover his license plate as he fled the scene. As things were only getting worse for the guy, he decided that he would stop performing at the end of 2017. How accurate he was…
His First Wife: Kay Lenz
David Cassidy married actress Kay Lenz on April 3, 1977, after only knowing each other for about three months. In fact, the two met on a blind date. They eloped to get married, and it was heard on the national news.
She recalled being head over heels for The Partridge Family star but knew it wasn’t going to last. By 1983, they were divorced. “I wasn’t used to that state-of-stardom lifestyle,” Lenz explained. “All of a sudden, I was getting mail from women telling me that they had three of his children.”
His First Divorce: Different Needs, Different Moods
It was rumored that their divorce was due to David’s substance abuse. But Lenz denied the hearsay, blaming the separation on her unhappiness. But let’s face it; David was depressed, too. They married just a year after he buried his father.
When he was asked why his marriage ended, he said, “Kay had her own life, and I had different needs.” He felt the need to start a family of his own, so it didn’t take him too long to try again with wife no. 2…
His Second Wife: Meryl Tanz
Cassidy married a South African horse breeder named Meryl Tanz a year after his first divorce, in 1984. The two had actually met a decade earlier at a horse sale in Lexington, Kentucky. Tanz elaborated on what made her fall for him, despite not particularly caring for the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
“A lot of people in rock have died or been impaired by illegal substances or whatever,” she shared, “but he is sane, normal and clean-living.” A year after her statement, the two walked down the aisle.
His Second Divorce: A Daughter and an Affair
The couple married in 1986 and divorced in 1988. David’s daughter, actress Katie Cassidy, was born in ‘86 and was the result of an extramarital affair David had with model Sherry Williams. Since David and Williams were not an official couple, Katie was raised by her mother and her stepdad, Richard Benedon.
David spoke of his non-existent relationship with Katie in 2017: “I’ve never had a relationship with her. I wasn’t her father. I was her biological father, but I didn’t raise her. She has a completely different life. I’m proud of her.”
His Third Wife: Sue Shifrin
David married Sue Shifrin on March 30, 1991, making her his third and final wife. Together, they had one child, Beau, in 1991. Things started to look up at that point. David was attracting crowds again, and his fans wanted to know what he was planning to do next.
No one was expecting him to co-star with his brother, Shaun Cassidy, in a Broadway musical called Blood Brothers. His third marriage lasted 23 years. But if the third time was a charm, it wasn’t meant to be forever.
His Third Divorce: The DUI Was the Last Straw
It was David’s third DUI that pushed Shifrin to file for a divorce after two-plus decades of marriage. The separation turned ugly when she filed a “Petition for Partition,” which is a request to have the court sell their mutually owned property.
Since she and David were unable to reach an agreement together, it was their last resort. A year later, David filed for bankruptcy. He reportedly had $150,000 in assets when he died, which came as another shock to his fans, who figured he was rich.
Overworked and Over It
There was a time in the mid-‘70s when David was simply tired of the fast life. “There’ll be a time when this whole thing will be over,” he said. “I won’t do concerts anymore, I won’t wake up in the morning feeling drained, and I won’t be working a punch card schedule.”
He stated that he “had them with a gun at my head, almost, saying “Record, ’cause we’ve gotta get the album out by Christmas!’” The guy was overworked and over it all. It was around this time that he wanted to leave his Partridge Family behind.
The Kid Could Sing
David was only 20 when The Partridge Family started, but his eternal cuteness made him pass as a 16-year-old son in a family of six who made their living as a band. Two years before, the same TV producers created The Monkees.
With The Partridge Family, the plan was to dub the singing when the family band performed. They were pleasantly surprised to discover that little Davy could actually sing. Soon enough, Partridge Family records were being released, and they were a hit. Eventually, Keith Partridge started to come out of his shell.
“David Spells Luv”
In the early ‘70s, David Cassidy was all girls thought about. He was Keith Partridge by day and singer by night; he would fill Madison Square Garden with over 20,000 excited fans (mostly girls). These were teenaged girls who put up his poster on their walls and eight-year-olds who came with their moms who understood how adorable this guy really was.
They never missed an episode of The Partridge Family and were happy to hold up signs that read, “David Spells Luv.” Those eight-year-olds were saying things like, “He’s so sexy.” And boy, was there a lot of screaming.
The Kid Was Selling Out Arenas
His 1972 concert in Madison Square Garden was sold in just one day, and riots ensued after the show. David was signing autographs for policemen’s daughters and talking with everyone who just wanted to shake his hand.
David was filling out stadiums after only a year of performing. He wasn’t a born singer, but it seemed like he really took to it with ease. After all, having thousands of fans and close friends around you sure does help. The kid seemed to really like his job…
A Shiny Superstar
“I’m doing what I love to do most, singing, and I’m singing for people who would rather have me sing than anybody else in the world.” He would sing into the mirror as his makeup was pancaked onto his face, chest and arms.
The stage turned David from a quiet kid into a shining superstar. He gave it his all. At 5’7″ and 125 pounds, he wasn’t a big guy. But his presence went above and beyond his physicality. “I never get tired of watching David’s act,” his former roommate, Sam Hyment, told Rolling Stone at the time.
Jill Wasn’t His Biggest Fan
At the NYC concert was a 24-year-old woman named Jill, who watched the show on a TV screen backstage. She was David’s date that night. “It’s so weird,” she told a reporter from Rolling Stone. “Last night, he was really nice. He was a really good f***.”
Jill shook her head underwhelmingly. “But seeing him doing his act, I can’t believe it’s the same person. This act is so Las Vegas.” Jill was clearly not as big of a fan as the 20,000 girls screaming his name. As soon as the hour-long set was over, all hell broke loose.
On the Hunt for David Cassidy
Although guards blocked off the backstage area, some fans were tiny enough to run under their arms or between their legs, and even managed to overturn a cop. Of course, they were on the hunt for David, but he got out in time.
He was able to escape in a car, covered under a blanket in the back seat. Who knew that just two years prior, the kid who played a dying boy on Medical Center would be escaping Madison Square Garden in a getaway car?
David and His 15-Member Band
Steve Alsberg was David’s road manager, and at the peak of his singing career, Alsberg was only 28 years old. He had eight years of experience steering bands like Three Dog Night, the Turtles, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Les McCann.
He said working for David Cassidy was the easiest gig for him. David’s 15-member band were “professionals… studio musicians, men in their 30s.” The day after the insanity of the MSG show, 22-year-old David was ordering a glass of milk on the plane. He was coming down with the flu…
The Kid Was Honest
It was on this plane ride that he was interviewed by Robin Green of Rolling Stone. He told the reporter that just two years earlier, he was getting food stamps. Not only was David nice, but he was also honest. He told Green that he initially didn’t want to talk to him since he roasted him in a previous article.
In a piece about the Jackson Five, Green compared the five kids, who had soul, to “those white “sucaryl” teen throbs like Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy.”
The Kid Knew How to Talk
Sucaryl was a popular sweetener in those days; what we would refer to nowadays as Splenda (or another current artificial sweetener). Anyway, Rolling Stone made him seem like a fake-sweet celeb, but the kid knew how to talk to his naysayers.
He told Green that he thought Rolling Stone was “anti-me and anything I have going for me – like commercialism and all that stuff.” He continued to near-threaten the reporter, with his David Cassidy grin, that it would be nice to read something about him “that wasn’t, you know, the same old bulls**t.”
His First Acting Gig Stank
Ruth Aarons, who managed David at the time, was also the manager of David’s stepmom, Shirley Jones, and Jack Cassidy. She had known David since he was eight. When he turned 18, Jack told her that his son wanted to act, and that she should keep an eye on him.
She took him to coaching lessons in New York and soon after landed him a small part in a Broadway play called Fig Leaves Are Falling. The play was a bust, so she told the young hopeful actor that he was at a fork in the road and had two options…
Do You Wanna Be a Star?
She told him that he could either stay there in New York for seven more years and learn how to act, or he can come back to L.A. and “be a star.” David later acknowledged that he chose Hollywood because he “was out to earn the bucks… to be a working actor… Honestly, my goal was not to be a star.”
Five weeks after landing back in Hollywood, he went from making $150 a day to guest-starring on TV shows. Then a special opportunity landed in his lap: the script for The Partridge Family.
He Didn’t Like How Cheesy It Was
“When I first read the script, I thought it was terrible,” David admitted. He didn’t like the cheesy lines, “Gee, Mom, can I borrow the keys to the car?” He called up Aarons and told her, “You gotta be kidding with this.”
She told him to read it over, which he did. He called her back to tell her, “I guess it’s not so bad.” David felt the same when he was asked to perform the music, both on the show and later as a singer.
From Bubble Gum to Number One
“I don’t want to cut bubble gum records,” he told the studio producer. With time, both the show and its music grew on him. The song I Think I Love You, which he hated at first, went from 40 to one in just two days.
He went from hating the bubble gum pop to loving the limelight. “I want people to know that I like to sing that song,” he told Green on that flight. “I stand naked – that’s the best word I can think of – and say ‘This is how I am.’”
The Star of Star
And with fame comes no privacy. On that flight with Rolling Stone, David got a hold of the teeny-bop magazine Star. In it, he found a contest to find David Cassidy’s junior high class picture. “They could at least have asked me!”
It took him a while to get used to being the heartthrob of the era. So did getting accustomed to all the mobs. Being mobbed was just another occupational hazard for David Cassidy. It basically came with the package.
Mobs Were an Occupational Hazard
A friend and photographer of his, Henry Diltz, remembered a vacation they went on in Hawaii. Diltz assured him at the time that no one knew he was coming there. Still, David pulled up his jacket and pulled down his hat, taking no chances.
He said if one person saw him, it would lead to three, then 15, then 100 people swarming him. David said he had been hurt before – scratched on his arms, chest, and face. “Once I was hit in the face with an Instamatic camera.”
Don’t Touch His Hair
There was one particularly unpleasant event in Cleveland after a concert. Due to a lack of security, David was swarmed by fans, who toppled on top of him. He was on his hands and knees, crawling out of the crowded mess.
“See, what they want is your hair. They want to grab your hair,” he told Green. “And my scalp is so sensitive, I get crazy when anybody grabs my hair. I can just cry. I can cry very easily.”
A Bike-Stealing Kid From Jersey
David Bruce Cassidy was born in 1950 in Englewood, New Jersey. At five, he moved with his mom to Hollywood. His childhood was normal, more or less, until he turned 14 and started stealing bicycles. He had a bike shop in the garage, and so if he saw a bike on his way home from school, he would “rip it off and drive it home.”
He would then paint the bikes or do something “neat” to it. He swears that he returned a lot of those bikes that he stole, but he’s positive he caused some people a lot of grief.
A Shrink, Some Grass, and Mono
It was around that same time that David started seeing a shrink. It was also around the time that he started experimenting with drugs – “not smack, but grass and speed and psychedelics.” To give you some perspective, this was 1967 and he was 16.
But David never wanted to be a junkie, or a hippie for that matter. A few of his friends died, “committed suicide actually,” he clarified. Then he came down with a serious case of mononucleosis and was forced to spend three months in the house, clean as a whistle.
Starting Out as the Mail Boy
It was during his mono-hiatus that he realized he wanted to do something worthwhile. After graduating high school, he went to New York. His first job was working in the mailroom of a textile firm in the city’s garment district.
It was then that he kept his nights busy with acting classes. The kid worked ever since. Fast forward a few years, and David found himself at home after a concert in Wildwood, New Jersey. He had to be on The Partridge Family set by 6 a.m.
A Bachelor Sort of Existence
He woke up at 3 a.m., screaming from stomach pain. Apparently, it was “gravel and stuff, from a bad diet or something” in his gall bladder. They ended up removing the whole thing. When he looked at his scar on that flight with Robin Green, he said, “If I didn’t have it, I’d be dead.”
According to Henry Diltz, the photographer, David lived a “bachelor sort of existence” for a while. He would eat a can of peaches and some bread for dinner. Despite the mass of female fans pouring over him, he chose to be alone when he could.
A Couple of Wimps
According to David’s longtime friend Sam Hyment, David was expelled from high school (University High School in Hollywood) for cutting 102 of one semester’s classes. The two buddies belonged to the same “social club,” AKA the football or fighting clubs.
And if you ask Hyment, it was because they were “wimps.” David and Sam eventually moved in together in the Hollywood Hills. During his time off, David would be heard listening to Crosby, Stills Nash, and Young and trying to imitate them.
A Song for Ricky
He would play his guitar and write songs of his own. He wrote – and recorded – a track called Ricky’s Tune. It was a song about his recently deceased dog, which I’m guessing was named Ricky. As it turns out, David wrote (or co-wrote) many songs.
Despite the kid’s massive fame, he reached the 1980s effectively broke. Remember, he filed for bankruptcy in the mid-‘80s. It must have been a real bummer when, after negative reviews of his performance in a pre-Broadway production of Little Johnny Jones, he was replaced by Donny Osmond.