As often happens with those who carry the blessing/curse of teen idol-dom, it became easy to forget just how big a star he was, capable of carrying a hit TV show and, despite being signed only as an actor, taking over the lead vocals of the show’s Family Band conceit himself and becoming enough of a draw to sell out 50,000 seat stadiums on his own.

Like many who were blessed/cursed before and since, he yearned for more than fame–wanted to write, produce, be taken seriously.

He did the first two, and quite well (check his The Higher They Climb for a fine version of the Beach Boys’ “Darlin'” and the original version of “I Write the Songs,” which went to #11 in the UK (he and the song’s composer, Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, co-produced) before it became forever associated with Barry Manilow. Unable to achieve the third goal, however, he sank into a classic spiral of alcoholism and hubris. Lynn Goldsmith’s invaluable book of rock and roll photography carries an anecdote of her and Cassidy walking on a beach somewhere and him telling her he was legend in his own time.

In your own mind maybe, she thought.

But he was probably more right than she was. He was a legend in his own time. That shouldn’t be devalued just because he didn’t transcend his time.

The Partridge Family was the cool show of my elementary and junior high years, so cool that I was able to follow along despite the frequent absence of a working TV at my house. That was how much other kids talked about it.

And, while Cassidy himself should have acknowledged the show being conceived around the Cowsills, and then yanked from them because of their boorish father, (DC’s real life step-mom, Shirley Jones, the on-screen Mrs. Partridge, became a big supporter of the group once she found out what had happened–which was after the show went off the air), he was a draw no Cowsill–or other Partridge–could have matched. Much as we all related to Danny Bonaduce’s character, we all knew, in our secret hearts, that the show could never have revolved around him.

For that you needed a star. David Cassidy was a star.

And, as far as I know, he and Ms. Jones (the only “Partridges” who actually sang on the records) are still only one of two Parent/Child vocal combos to hit #1 in Billboard.

The other one was named Sinatra.

Not bad company really, for a man who was, like all the greatest teen idols, a fine pop singer, as evidenced by a long, successful solo career that counted a handful of hits in the US (and as late as the nineties) and a near-dozen in the UK.

Besides which, anybody who hasn’t hit the natural high of that “Hey-y-y-y-y” a few times in their life, hasn’t lived as fully as they should have.

67 is too young to die of anything in a modern, developed country. It’s horribly young to die of complications brought on by dementia. I don’t doubt the years of self-abuse–abuse he brought on himself, in part, because it took him far too long to accept the kind of stardom that was in his bones and his stars–took their toll.

That’s not the worst you can say about a teen idol–that he wanted what his talent probably deserved.

Hope while the world is remembering tonight, it will also take a moment to listen.

9 thoughts on “WHEN I’M A ROCK AND ROLL STAR (David Cassidy, R.I.P.)

  1. This is just so sad. Not only that he died at a relatively young age, but that he suffered so much before he died. He helped a lot of people make a lot of good memories, and that’s worth remembering.

    • I’m sorry to hear that Kevin. I’m probably luckier than most. My dad didn’t reach the point where he didn’t recognize me…but I could see that day coming if he’d lived a year or two longer. And it was pretty hard to have a conversation with him (after a lifetime of being loquacious to a fault. There’s no easy way out of this life.

  2. They can say what they like about manufactured idols — the guy could SING. And some of the stuff he sang was very difficult (believe me); but he always made it sound easy. He was a rock star if there were ever such a thing. And he sang this for us in the southwest — we who never seemed to hear any music written about our beautiful city. To a kid, it was really something. Thank you for remembering us, David! We won’t forget you.

    • That’s a good one I hadn’t heard. I’ve seen a lot of love for him across the socio-political spectrum today…I think I’m going to stop being surprised at how people feel as the remaining symbols of the common culture depart. They all now take a little piece of us with them when we go.

  3. I just came across your post looking for information about the David Cassidy- Bruce Johnston connection. It’s a lovely, tender, but frank post. I think you captured the mystery (to me) of what happened to this man who had so much talent and promise (and that “something special” that made you not want to take your eyes off of him). He gave us a lot to enjoy and to think about. I should mention I was captivated by him as an 8 year old girl and when he passed away he took a little piece of me.

    • So glad you found the piece. I probably should have worked in a little Howlin’ Wolf…The men don’t know but the little girls understand!

      I said on another site that he was our generation’s Ricky Nelson and had the times been a little more receptive he could have had a similar career (maybe even a Hall of Fame career). The talent was there. As it stands he still gave a lot and we can be grateful for that.

  4. Yes, I think there are probably a lot of 50+ women out there who – like me – feel surprised at how saddened they were to hear of his passing. I can’t believe I’m saying this but it really blew me away. I’ve been looking back at his interviews and clippings trying to find an answer (why does this feel so big to me? And what happened to him?) and I think you hit on something very important when you used the word “hubris.” I haven’t been able to find anything else that explores this idea. Anyway thank you again – I was very glad to find your piece.

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