David Cassidy, widely known for his starring role as Keith Partridge, the son of Shirley Partridge (played by his stepmother Shirley Jones), in the 1970s musical-sitcom The Partridge Family, which led to his becoming one of pop culture’s teen idols and pop singers of the 1970s, died from organ failure today in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 67.
The actor had been in intensive care since he was hospitalized for liver and kidney failure last week.
The Cassidy family released the following statement:
“On behalf of the entire Cassidy family, it is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our father, our uncle, and our dear brother, David Cassidy. David died surrounded by those he loved, with joy in his heart and free from the pain that had gripped him for so long. Thank you for the abundance and support you have shown him these many years.”
Cassidy was born at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital in New York City, the son of singer and actor Jack Cassidy and actress Evelyn Ward. His father was of half-Irish and half-German ancestry, and his mother was decended from Colonial Americans of Irish and Swiss origin. Some of his mother’s ancestors were among the founders of Newark, New Jersey.
As his parents were frequently touring on the road, he spent his early years being raised by his maternal grandparents in a middle-class neighborhood in West Orange, New Jersey.
In 1956, he found out from neighbors’ children that his parents had been divorced for over two years and had not told him. David’s parents had decided because he was at such a young age, it would be better for his emotional stability to not discuss it at that time. They were gone often with theater productions and home life remained the same.
In 1956, Cassidy’s father married singer and actress Shirley Jones. They had three children: David’s half-brothers Shaun (1958), Patrick (1962), and Ryan (1966). In 1968, after completing one final session of summer school to obtain credits necessary to get a high-school diploma, David moved into the rental home of Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones in Irvington, New York, where his half-brothers also resided.
David remained there seeking fame as an actor/musician while simultaneously working half-days in the mailroom of a textile firm. He moved out when his career began to flourish.
Cassidy’s father, Jack, is credited with setting his son up with his first manager. After signing with Universal Studios in 1969, Jack introduced him to former table tennis champion and close friend Ruth Aarons, who later found her niche as a talent manager, given her theater background. Aarons had represented Jack and Shirley Jones for several years prior, and later represented Cassidy’s half-brother Shaun.
Aarons became an authority figure and close friend to Cassidy, and proved to be the fighting force behind his on-screen success. After making small wages from Screen Gems for his work on The Partridge Family during season one, Aarons discovered a loophole in his contract and renegotiated it with far superior terms, and a four-year duration, a rare stipulation at the time.
On January 2, 1969, Cassidy made his professional debut in the Broadway musical The Fig Leaves Are Falling. It closed after four performances, but a casting director saw the show and asked Cassidy to make a screen test.
In 1969, he moved to Los Angeles. After signing with Universal Studios in 1969, Cassidy was featured in episodes of the television series Ironside, Marcus Welby, M.D., Adam-12 and Bonanza.
In 1970, Cassidy took the role of Keith Partridge, son of Shirley Partridge, who was played by Cassidy’s real stepmother and series lead Shirley Jones.
The Partridge Family series creator Bernard Slade and producers Paul Junger Witt and Bob Claver did not care whether Cassidy could sing, knowing only that his androgynous good looks would guarantee success.
Shortly after production began, though, Cassidy convinced music producer Wes Farrell that he was good enough, and he was promoted to lead singer for the series’ recordings.
Once “I Think I Love You” became a hit, Cassidy began work on solo albums, as well. Within the first year, he had produced his own single, “Cherish” (from the album of the same title), which reached number nine in the United States, number two in the United Kingdom, and number one in Australia and New Zealand. He began tours that featured Partridge tunes and his own hits.
Though he wanted to become a respected rock musician along the lines of Mick Jagger, his channel to stardom launched him into the ranks of teen idol, a brand he loathed until much later in life, when he managed to come to terms with his bubblegum pop beginnings.
Ten albums by The Partridge Family and five solo albums were produced during the series, with most selling more than a million copies each.
Internationally, Cassidy’s solo career eclipsed the already phenomenal success of The Partridge Family. He became an instant drawcard, with sellout concert successes in major arenas around the world.
These concerts produced mass hysteria, resulting in the media coining the term “Cassidymania”. By way of example, he played to two sellout crowds of 56,000 each at the Houston Astrodome in Texas over one weekend in 1972. His concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden sold out in one day and resulted in riots after the show. His concert tours of the United Kingdom included sellout concerts at Wembley Stadium in 1973.
In Australia in 1974, the mass hysteria was such that calls were made to have him deported from the country, especially after the madness at his 33,000-person audience concert at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
A turning point in Cassidy’s live concerts (while still filming The Partridge Family) was a gate stampede which killed a teenaged girl. At a show in London’s White City Stadium on May 26, 1974, nearly 800 were injured in a crush at the front of the stage. Thirty were taken to the hospital, and one, 14-year-old Bernadette Whelan, died four days later at London’s Hammersmith Hospital without regaining consciousness after the excitement and press of the crowd caused a pre-existing heart condition to trigger cardiac arrest.
The show was the penultimate date on a world tour. A deeply affected Cassidy faced the press, trying to make sense of what had happened. Out of respect for the family and to avoid turning the girl’s funeral into a media circus, Cassidy did not attend the service, although he spoke to Whelan’s parents and sent flowers. Cassidy stated at the time that this would haunt him until the day he died.
I’m exploited by people who put me on the back of cereal boxes. I asked my housekeeper to go and buy a certain kind of cereal and when she came home, there was a huge picture of me on the back. I can’t even eat breakfast without seeing my face.
—New Musical Express, October 1972.
By this point, Cassidy had decided to quit both touring and acting in The Partridge Family, concentrating instead on recording and songwriting. International success continued, mostly in Great Britain, Germany, and Japan, when he released three well-received solo albums on RCA in 1975 and 1976.
Cassidy became the first recording artist to have a hit with “I Write the Songs”, a top-20 record in Great Britain before the song became Barry Manilow’s signature tune. Cassidy’s recording was produced by the song’s author-composer, Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys.
In 1978, Cassidy starred in an episode of Police Story titled “A Chance to Live”, for which he received an Emmy Award nomination. NBC created a series based on it, called David Cassidy: Man Undercover, but it was cancelled after one season. A decade later, the successful Fox series 21 Jump Street used the same plot, with different youthful-looking police officers infiltrating a high school.
Cassidy later stated he was broke by the 1980s, despite being successful and highly paid.
In 1985, music success continued with the Arista release of the single “The Last Kiss” (number six in the United Kingdom), with backing vocals by George Michael, which was included on the album Romance. These went gold in Europe and Australia, and Cassidy supported them with a sellout tour of the United Kingdom, which resulted in the Greatest Hits Live compilation of 1986. Michael cited Cassidy as a major career influence and interviewed Cassidy for David Litchfield’s Ritz Newspaper.
Cassidy performed in musical theatre. In 1981, he toured in a revival of a pre-Broadway production of Little Johnny Jones, a show originally produced in 1904 with music, lyrics, and book by George M. Cohan. (The show is excerpted in the biographic film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), when James Cagney sings “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy”.) However, Cassidy received negative reviews, and he had been replaced by another former teen idol, Donny Osmond, by the time the show reached Broadway. Cassidy, in turn, was himself a replacement for the lead in the original 1982 Broadway production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Cassidy also appeared in London’s West End production of Time and returned to Broadway in Blood Brothers alongside Petula Clark and his half-brother, Shaun Cassidy.
In 1989, he co-wrote the song “Prayin’ 4 a Miracle” with John Wetton and Sue Shifrin. Wetton released the song on his band Asia’s album Then & Now the year after.
Cassidy returned to the American top 40 with his 1990 single “Lyin’ to Myself”, released on Enigma Records. In 1998, he had an adult contemporary music hit with “No Bridge I Wouldn’t Cross” from his album Old Trick New Dog. His 2001 album Then and Now went platinum internationally and returned Cassidy to the top five of the UK album charts for the first time since 1974.
In concert performances in 1990, Cassidy hired his recalcitrant TV brother Danny Bonaduce as his warm-up act.
In 1995, he hosted the VH1 show 8-Track Flashback, which ran until 1998.
In 1996, he replaced Michael Crawford in the Las Vegas show EFX, rewriting it into one of the Strip’s favorite shows, although Cassidy was forced to resign after he injured his foot during a performance. He also created The Rat Pack is Back, in which he made guest appearances as Bobby Darin.
In 2000, Cassidy wrote and appeared in the Las Vegas show At the Copa with Sheena Easton, as both the young and old versions of the lead character, Johnny Flamingo.
In 2005, Cassidy played the manager of Aaron Carter’s character in the film Popstar.
In 2006, as well as performing with Peter Furniss and Thomas Bowles, he made a guest appearance for BBC Children in Need performing live, then assisting Terry Wogan collecting donations from the studio audience. He co-starred alongside his brother Patrick in a 2009 ABC Family short-lived comedy series titled Ruby & The Rockits, a show created by Shaun.
Cassidy was one of the contestants on Celebrity Apprentice in 2011, in which his daughter Katie Cassidy made a brief appearance at her father’s request. He was the first to be fired.
In the following years, Cassidy maintained a regular tour schedule, with concert appearances across the USA and the UK, until his retirement in 2017.
As the days of “Cassidymania” subsided, Cassidy regularly addressed fans at his concerts in question-and-answer sessions.
In August 2016, Cassidy performed in The Villages, Florida, and brought multiple attendees to the side of the stage, asking and answering questions and engaging with members of the community who had been fans for nearly a half century.
Cassidy’s first wife was actress Kay Lenz, whom he married on April 3, 1977, and divorced in the early 1980s.
His second wife was horse breeder Meryl Tanz, whom he married in 1984. They met in 1974 at a Lexington, Kentucky, horse sale. This marriage ended in the mid 1980s.
His daughter, actress Katie Cassidy, was born in 1986 from a relationship with Sherry Williams Benedon.
Cassidy married Sue Shifrin on March 30, 1991, his third and her second marriage. They had one child, Beau, in 1991. In August 2013, Cassidy’s Los Angeles publicist confirmed that the couple had separated, with Shifrin filing for divorce in February 2014.
Cassidy moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2002. He filed for bankruptcy in 2015.
In 2008, Cassidy publicly admitted he had an alcohol problem. He was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in Florida on November 3, 2010, and was arrested for DUI a second time in Schodack, New York, in the early hours of August 21, 2013. He was pulled over after failing to dim his headlights as he passed a police car going in the opposite direction. After performing poorly on a field sobriety test, Cassidy was subjected to an alcohol breath test, returning a blood alcohol level of 0.10%, which is above the New York legal limit of 0.08%.
The arresting officer, named Tom Jones, reported that Cassidy was polite and courteous, and jokingly asked officer Jones “What’s New Pussycat?” in reference to the 1965 hit song by the singer Tom Jones. Cassidy was subsequently charged, taken to jail, and released several hours later on $2,500 bail.
He faced felony charges because of his prior DUI in Florida in 2010.
On May 12, 2015, Cassidy was sentenced, on the charge of driving while intoxicated from 2013 in New York, to community service, a fine, and other consequences, including a suspended license for six months.
Cassidy was arrested on suspicion of DUI in California on January 10, 2014, after he made an illegal right turn against a red light. He was held overnight in jail. In that case, he was ordered to go to in-patient rehabilitation and was put on probation for five years.
Cassidy was cited in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on charges of leaving the scene of a car accident, expired tags, improper lane change, and driving on a suspended license (his license was suspended for six months in May 2015 as part of his sentencing in the New York case) on September 9, 2015.
In 2011, Cassidy recorded a public service announcement for Alzheimer’s disease research and prevention—due to his mother, Evelyn Ward, having the condition—and said that he would campaign for that cause whenever possible. He planned to address Congress in 2012.
Cassidy is a long-time registered Democrat. During a 2012 guest appearance on The Colbert Report he expressed his views on the leading Republican candidates for president Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Cassidy stated, “I believe the both of them are the most embarrassing, sad, pathetic … I mean, really, this is the best we can do?”
Cassidy announced on February 20, 2017, that he is living with non-Alzheimer’s dementia, the condition that his mother suffered from at the end of her life. He retired from performing in early 2017 when the condition became noticeable during a performance in which he forgot lyrics and otherwise struggled.
On November 18, 2017, it was announced that Cassidy had been hospitalized suffering from liver and kidney failure, and was critically ill in a medically-induced coma. He was out of the coma two days later, but remained in critical but stable condition, with doctors hoping to keep him stable until a liver becomes available for transplant.
In 1994, Cassidy, in collaboration with Chip Deffaa, wrote his autobiography, C’mon, Get Happy … Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus.
Cassidy wrote a memoir that was published in the United Kingdom in March 2007. Could It Be Forever? My Story gives details of his personal life.