By: Michael Bird
We have lost many entertainers in 2017, from two original Allman Brothers Band members to Della Reese, from Malcolm Young to Mary Tyler Moore, from Tom Petty to Don Rickles, and so many more.
The original wave of rock and rollers crossed the way in 2017, as well: Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Only Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard are still around now.
Last week, however, a piece of my childhood died when David Cassidy – forever known as “Keith Partridge” on THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY – passed away.
He was a teen idol back in the 1970s, and many folks today may never have even heard of him. But he was a multi-platform media superstar in his day, and his passing, shortly after the revelation that he suffered from dementia, marks the end of a particular brand of entertainer.
Cassidy was the son of stage and screen stars Jack Cassidy and Evelyn Ward. It would seem that he was primed for success from an early age; the truth is quite different. He was raised by his grandparents and was not even aware that his father had divorced his mother and remarried singer-actress Shirley Jones until he learned about it from a neighbor.
Around the time his half-brother Shaun Cassidy was born, David began living with his dad and stepmother in New York. Jack set his son up with a talent agent, who began charting a course for later success. David’s career began on the Broadway stage in 1969, and he later guest starred in episodes of BONANZA, MARCUS WELBY, IRONSIDE, and ADAM-12.
In 1970, David took on the role of Keith Partridge in the ABC sitcom THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, which was partnered with THE BRADY BUNCH in the Friday night lineup. From the beginning, David bristled at the corporate nature of the series, which coincidentally, was produced by the same team that created THE MONKEES several years prior. On this series, his mother would be portrayed by his real-life stepmom.
The television show featured crackerjack songwriting and production, assembled by the best and brightest of the period, and along came a wave of memorably tuneful pop classics: “I Think I Love You,” “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted,” “Point Me in the Direction of Alberquerque,” “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat,” “Cherish,” “I’ll Meet You Halfway,” and many more.
THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY made no secret of the fact that the recordings featured studio musicians accompanying the multitalented Shirley Jones and her stepson, David Cassidy. The other actors in the series mimed their parts on the actual show, but no one seemed to care.
The sitcom occasionally featured contrived storylines, but there is no doubt that THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, partnered with THE BRADY BUNCH for its entire run, was the hipper of the two series. The Partridge kids – Keith, Laurie, Danny, Chris, and Tracy – routinely found themselves in, well, comedic situations. Along with top-notch performances by Dave Madden as manager Reuben Kincaid and Shirley Jones as widowed mother Shirley Partridge, the troupe made their way around the west coast in a multicolored school bus tagged with “Careful: Nervous Mother Driving.” Hilarity often ensued, with music videos concluding each episode.
The character of Keith was the heartthrob, but in an unusual move, he was the butt of most of the jokes. Keith was usually chasing a girl, a la Davy Jones in THE MONKEES, but Keith Partridge was presented as a dim bulb compared to his scheming little brother Danny and his too-cool-for-the-room sister Laurie.
The Partridge juggernaut spawned ten million-selling records, while Cassidy found himself at the center of what was called Cassidymania: he sold out huge venues such as Madison Square Garden, Wembley Stadium, and the Astrodome.
It all came to a screeching halt in the summer of 1974, when a 14-year-old girl at one of his concerts in England was crushed in an audience stampede, which caused her to suffer a fatal heart attack. THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY ended, and David retreated from the spotlight.
In the 40 years since, while other TV families are often feted with reunion shows and movies, the Partridges are remembered as ‘70s cheese. That reputation hasn’t been helped by the offscreen antics of radio shock-jock Danny Bonaduce (Danny) or the fact that Susan Dey (Laurie) has spent the rest of her career preferring never to mention her Partridge experience again.
David Cassidy continued to sing and act, and there were a few times the Partridges got together again. But it was never the same. And so when David Cassidy revealed this year that he suffered from dementia, it appeared that there would be a sad ending to the story of the real-life Partridges.
What is left behind? Four seasons of truly funny family comedy, and some of the best pop music of the early seventies. David Cassidy is gone, but Keith Partridge lives on!