Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Dilemma of David Cassidy

Every year around this time, my CD of The Partridge Family Christmas Album makes its way from a bedroom bookshelf into my car, where it will be played dozens of times between now and December 25. That will happen again this year, and while the music will remain joyous and uplifting, the experience will be bittersweet. 

The David Cassidy who sang those songs, with his long wavy hair and puka shell necklace, will forever live in the memories of a generation of fans, particularly the young girls that idolized him. He was to the 1970s what Ricky Nelson was to the 1950s and Davy Jones to the 1960s – the preeminent TV teen idol of his day. And like his predecessors, he left us far too soon.  

The remnants of that intense adulation are still being felt by women now married with children – and perhaps even grandchildren. None of us ever forget the first celebrity that rocked our childhood world, with a combination of traffic-stopping physical beauty and appealing songs that went straight into our consciousness – a potent cocktail for those too young to drink. It’s why I still adore Olivia Newton-John.

Anyone who read Cassidy’s autobiography, which is not particularly flattering to its subject, would learn that he greatly enjoyed the benefits that came with his fame. And that he never made peace with his bubblegum star reputation.

The shelf life for teen idols is brief. By the time The Partridge Family ended its four-season run both its ratings and record sales had plummeted. Cassidy continued to have solo hits in England for another few years, but in the U.S. he had ceded the cover of Tiger Beat to Willie Aames and John Travolta. 

He never stopped trying to come up with a second act, and there were successes along the way in Vegas and on Broadway, but he could never outrun the shadow of Keith Partridge. 

And to the rest of us mere mortals who look at people who seem to have everything and wonder why it doesn’t make them happy, we can’t imagine why he would want to distance himself from something so good. The Partridge Family was and is a delightful family situation comedy, and the songs created for its run were superb examples of pop music at the highest level of craftsmanship. And Cassidy’s lead vocals were their strongest component. 

But we didn’t live inside his head, with the addiction demons he inherited from his father and the mental fragility he inherited from his mother. Neither of these challenges mix well with fame, and they become even more toxic when that fame dissipates.

He had a Jekyll and Hyde persona through much of his later years. There were shows where he angrily turned on his audience, and venues that banned him from future appearances. There was an infamous Hollywood autograph show where he refused to sign any Partridge Family memorabilia, and stormed out after less than an hour, leaving fans who flew in from as far away as Australia without the moment with their idol they were promised.

But there are also countless stories of fans who met him after concerts or at fan club gatherings or just on the street, who were delighted to find him so kind and approachable and appreciative of their support. His highs were higher and his lows were lower than most of us will experience, and too many years on that kind of rollercoaster is bound to take its toll. 

And now it has.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all about David Cassidy’s untimely passing is that he was often unwilling or incapable of sharing in the joy that his talent brought to millions of fans. I hope he’s experiencing it now from a perspective uncomplicated by the anxieties of this world.


  1. Mr. Hofstede, I imagine you are aware of the issues that Sir Alec Guinness had with the "Star Wars" franchise.

    BTW, what problems did you have with "The Sound of Anger," the 1968 telefilm that served as the initial pilot for "The Bold Ones: The Lawyers"? David Macklin has been very proud of the movie.

  2. This blog post inspired me to break out my Partridge Family Season 1 DVD. It's interesting to notice that at least in these early episodes Keith isn't much of a focus; half the time I don't even notice him being there!

    But it also impressed me how many big names or soon to be big names I saw just as random guest stars... Gordon Jump, Harry Morgan, and some lady named Farrah in the first 2 episodes alone!

    After watching I've read that there was an unaired version of the pilot out there somewhere with a few minor changes, including a Jack Cassidy cameo that would have just confused people.

    As for David Cassidy... I never met him but I found it interesting that The Flash never stunt-casted him on the new show - after all, they certainly had a connection with his daughter Katie as part of the "Arrowverse" and of course, he played the Mirror Master on the original John Wesley Shipp show. (Mark Hamill played the Trickster on the original Flash and reprised the role on the new series.) I got the impression that they were never interested in having him, perhaps because of some of those negative stories you illustrated. I know when I saw him on Dr. Phil earlier this year he appeared to be very unwell.

    On a happier note with David Cassidy/superhero connections, Katie actually hadn't been aware her father played a Flash villain! With her grandfather being a Superman villain on stage, and her [half]-uncle being both Lex Luthor Jr. and Lana Lang's father, you'd think that being in the DC Universe was a family affair. In any event, someone had to tell her, and that someone was me :)