Cassidy, David (1950—)

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Cassidy, David (1950—)

David Cassidy may not have been the first teenage idol, but he was the first to demand control of his life, walking away from the entertainment industry's star-machinery even as it went into over-drive. And when that industry discarded him, Cassidy's resolve to return was more self-fulfilling than the first time around.

Cassidy was born on April 12, 1950, the son of actors Jack Cassidy and Evelyn Ward. His parents divorced when he was three, and David lived with his mother in West Orange, New Jersey. At 11, Cassidy and his mother moved to Los Angeles, and David spent his teen years hanging out in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury scene, graduating from a private school and pursuing small acting jobs. He moved to New York City in his late teens, working in a textile factory by day and taking acting classes by night, before starring in the 1969 Broadway play, Fig Leaves Are Falling. With a stint on Broadway to his name, Cassidy returned to Los Angeles and landed bit parts on popular television shows.

The turning point came in 1969, when the ABC network was casting for the musical comedy series, The Partridge Family, which was based loosely upon the late 1960s folk-music family, the Cowsills. David's stepmother, actress Shirley Jones, was cast as the lead. Unbeknownst to Jones, the producers had 19-year-old David read for the part of the good-looking pop-music prodigy Keith Partridge.

Cassidy once claimed that when he was a child, his life was changed forever upon seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. But that could never have prepared him for the tsunami of publicity generated by the success of The Partridge Family. The show was a runaway hit, and Cassidy's visage was pinned up on teenage girls' bedroom walls all over the country. The merchandising of Cassidy remains a blueprint for the careers of all of the teen heartthrobs who followed him. Posters, pins, t-shirts, lunchboxes, and magazine covers proclaimed Cassidy-mania. He used the success of the show to further his rock and roll career, playing to overflowing arena crowds of teenage girls that were so hungry for a piece of their idol that Cassidy had to be smuggled in and out of venues by hiding in laundry trucks or the trunks of sedans.

After years of seven-day weeks running from television tapings to recording studios to tour buses, the 23-year-old singer was starting to feel the burn-out inevitably linked with fame. In a May, 1972, cover story in Rolling Stone, Cassidy spoke candidly about his success, bragging about taking drugs and having sex with groupies and—in a moment of career suicide—railing against the pressures of his chosen field.

During a 1974 concert in London, England, a 14-year-old girl died of a heart attack. The rude awakening forced Cassidy to take a long hard look at himself. His response was to retire from live performances and the television show in order to make a conscious break from teeny-bopper fantasy to serious actor. Not long afterward, The Partridge Family slipped in its ratings and was canceled; record contracts were no longer forthcoming, and the window of opportunities available to Cassidy was closing quickly. He was free of the rigors of show business, but industry professionals looked askance at his quick rise-and-fall career.

The actor's personal life was chaotic as well; his father, from whom he had been estranged for nine months, died in a fire in his penthouse apartment. Cassidy was drinking heavily at the time, and found out that he was bankrupt. A 1977 marriage to actress Kay Lenz lasted for four years; a second marriage to horse-breeder Meryl Tanz in 1984 lasted just a year. He entered psychoanalysis soon after his second divorce.

In 1978, Cassidy appeared in a made-for-TV movie, A Chance to Live. The success of the movie prompted producers to create a spinoff series titled David Cassidy: Man Undercover, which was poorly received. In the late 1970s, he took the lead in a Broadway production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (ironically replacing drug-damaged teen idol Andy Gibb), and later ended up in London's West End theater district as the star of Dave Clarke's play, Time. While living in London, Cassidy recorded an album for the Ariola label.

In the 1990s Cassidy devoted his time entirely to acting. In 1993, he appeared with his half-brother Shaun Cassidy (himself a former teen idol turned actor and producer) and British singer Petula Clark in the stage drama Blood Brothers. In 1994, he wrote a tell-all memoir about his television exploits entitled C'mon Get Happy: Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus. In 1996, he helped relaunch the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, appearing in the science-fiction musical variety show FX. While most teen idols stay forever trapped in the history books, David Cassidy worked hard to make sure he wasn't trapped by a "sell-by" date like most entertainment commodities.

—Emily Pettigrew

Further Reading:

Allis, Tim. "The Boys Are Back." People. November 1, 1993, 66.

Behind the Music: David Cassidy. VH-1. November 29, 1998.

Cassidy, David. C'mon, Get Happy: Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus. New York, Warner Books, 1994.

"Elvis! David!" New Yorker. June 24, 1972, 28-29.

Graves, R. "D-day Sound Was a High-C Shriek." Life. March 24,1972, 72-73.

Thomas, Dana. "Teen Heartthrobs: The Beat Goes On." Washington

Post. October 3, 1991, C1.

Vespa, Mary. "Now Back Onstage, David Cassidy Has a New Fiancee and a Confession: His Rock days Were No Picnic." People. May 16, 1983, 75.