Heartthrob starred in The Partridge Family
Although cast in a supporting role, he soon took centre stage and won over millions of young fans
Thursday, November 23, 2017 – Print Edition, Page S6

David Cassidy could sell the heck out of uncertainty.

I Think I Love You, the smash hit that in 1970 launched the Partridge Family musical group plus the ABC comedy-with-songs show of the same name, found Mr. Cassidy centre stage delivering such lyrics as "I think I love you, so what am I so afraid of? / I'm afraid that I'm not sure of a love there is no cure for."

There was no doubt: At 20, Mr. Cassidy was the radiant man-boy to help usher young girls into the untold mysteries of pubescence, adolescence, romance and rock 'n' roll.

For all that, millions knew they loved him.

Within a few years, those legions of fans would outgrow him, just as Mr. Cassidy would outgrow himself, or, at least, what had made him a superstar. His cherubic looks would fade along with his popularity; his laddish proto-Farrah-Fawcett shag would thin.

Mr. Cassidy, who announced earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with dementia, died on Tuesday surrounded by his family.

He was 67. No further details were immediately available, but publicist Jo-Ann Geffen said on Saturday that Mr. Cassidy was in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., hospital suffering from organ failure.

The Partridge Family aired from 1970 to 1974 and was intended at first as a vehicle for Shirley Jones, the Oscar-winning actress and Mr. Cassidy's stepmother. Ms. Jones played Shirley Partridge, a widow with five children with whom she forms a popular act that travels on a psychedelic bus. The cast also featured Mr. Cassidy as eldest son and family heartthrob Keith Partridge; Susan Dey, later of L.A. Law fame, as sibling Laurie Partridge and Danny Bonaduce as sibling Danny Partridge.

The Partridge Family never cracked the top 10 in TV ratings, but the recordings under their name, mostly featuring Mr. Cassidy, Ms. Jones and session players, produced reallife musical hits and made Mr. Cassidy a real-life musical superstar. I Think I Love You was the Partridges's best-known song, spending three weeks on top of the Billboard chart at a time when other hit singles included James Taylor's Fire and Rain and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' The Tears of a Clown. The group also reached the top 10 with I'll Meet You Halfway and Doesn't Somebody Want to be Wanted, and Mr. Cassidy had a solo hit with Cherish.

"In two years, David Cassidy has swept hurricane-like into the prepubescent lives of millions of American girls," Rolling Stone magazine noted in 1972. "Leaving: six and a half million long-playing albums and singles; 44 television programs; David Cassidy lunch boxes; David Cassidy bubble gum; David Cassidy coloring books and David Cassidy pens; not to mention several millions of teen magazines, wall stickers, love beads, posters and photo albums."

Mr. Cassidy's appeal faded after the show went off the air, although he continued to tour, record and act over the next 40 years, his albums including Romance and the awkwardly titled Didn't You Used To Be?

He had a hit with I Write the Songs before Barry Manilow's chart-topping version and success overseas with The Last Kiss, featuring backing vocals from Mr. Cassidy's admirer, George Michael. He made occasional stage and television appearances, including an Emmynominated performance on Police Story.

Even while The Partridge Family was still in primetime, Mr. Cassidy worried that he was being mistaken for the wholesome character he played. He posed naked for Rolling Stone in 1972, when he confided that he had dropped acid as a teenager and smoked pot in front of the magazine's reporter as he watched an episode of The Partridge Family and mocked his own acting.

That same year, in what he later recalled as a career peak, Mr. Cassidy headlined Madison Square Garden, wearing the kind of white jumpsuit Elvis Presley also favoured in the 1970s. By then, Mr. 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," Mr. 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." Reviewing Mr. 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."

"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."

Mr. Cassidy would endure personal and financial troubles. He was married and divorced three times, battled alcoholism, was arrested for drunk driving and, in 2015, filed for bankruptcy. Mr. Cassidy had two children, musician Beau Cassidy and actress Katie Cassidy, with whom he acknowledged having a distant relationship.

"I wasn't her father. I was her biological father but I didn't raise her," he told People magazine this year.

"She has a completely different life."

Mr. Cassidy himself was estranged from his father. Born in New York on April 12, 1950, he was the son of actors Jack Cassidy and Evelyn Ward and half brother of entertainer Shaun Cassidy. David Cassidy's parents split up when he was five years old and he would long express regret about Jack Cassidy, who soon married Shirley Jones, being mostly absent from his life. David Cassidy stayed with his mother and by the early 1960s, had moved to Los Angeles.

Kicked out of high school for truancy, David Cassidy dreamed of becoming an actor and had made appearances on Bonanza, Ironside and other programs before producers at ABC asked him to audition for The Partridge Family, unaware that he could sing and intending at first to have him mime songs to someone else's voice. Mr. Cassidy, who only learned during tryouts that Ms. Jones would play his mother, worried that Keith Partridge would be a "real comedown" from his previous roles.

"I mean, how much could an actor do with a line like, 'Hi, Mom, I'm home from school,' or 'Please pass the milk?' " he wrote in his memoir. "I didn't see how it could do much for me. After all, I wasn't the star of it. Shirley had top billing; I was just one of the kids."

Of course, that wasn't how it worked out.

In the show's musical numbers, he was placed front and centre, upstaging Ms. Jones, an actress whose beauty and crystalline vocals had graced the movie musicals Carousel, Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music. Her voice was buried in the chorus of the other lesser "Partridges."

And while Ms. Dey, who was 17 when The Partridge Family debuted, soon won a rapt following among the show's male viewers, she, too, was eclipsed by Mr. Cassidy.

It was he who could sell the chaste romanticism of "I woke up this mornin,'/ Went to sleep with you on my mind." For a glorious instant, he made mysteries clearer in the minds of his millions of fans.

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Associated Graphic

David Cassidy gained fame playing Keith Partridge in the early seventies television hit The Partridge Family. Mr. Cassidy continued to tour, record and act over the next few decades, even though much of his appeal had faded.

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