September 6, 2022

David Cassidy: Alcoholism Results in a Tragic End for a Seventies Teen Idol

One irony of this blog is that the background is essentially a copy of the pattern of the school bus turned family/band tour bus of the fictitious musical family known as "The Partridge Family". And yet, in spite of the design similarity, I had just a single post (see it at for details) about that iconic TV show, and it was mostly about my design choice, with little about the show itself or the characters on the show (although I subsequently added a "P.S." to that post). This post is about the second member of his family's passing a number of  years ago. I never published this blog post, but felt the time might be right to do so now. 

Actor and singer David Cassidy passed away from multiple organ failure (specifically, liver and kidney; see his obituary HERE) on November 21, 2017. At the time of his death, he was age 67. However, David's passing seemed ominously more like history repeating itself rather than a complete surprise of a former teen idol's passing. David's own father Jack Cassidy, himself a famous Tony-winning stage and TV actor, had died almost exactly 41 years earlier in a house fire which was caused when his lit cigarette ignited the sofa he had passed out on due to intoxication. David Cassidy's own life, and his eventual death, looked eerily similar to his own father's. 

"The Partridge Family" was an American musical sitcom which ran ABC based very loosely on the real-life musical family known as The Cowsills. An Amazon Prime movie about The Cowsills called "Family Band: The Cowsills Story" is worth seeing if you're interested in the topic. At the very least, some of their famous songs might be familiar. 

David Cassidy's claim to fame was as a teenaged star of "The Partridge Family", which co-starred his step-mother, Academy-Award winner Shirley Jones, who rose to fame starring in film versions of several Broadway musicals including "Oklahoma!", "Carousel", and "The Music Man". On the show, David Cassidy played her fictitious son Keith Patridge (several other actors/actresses also co-starred in the show as siblings, including actress Susan Dey as sister Laurie, Danny Bonaduce who played brother Danny, while Suzanne Crough played sister Tracy and Brian Forster played brother Chris and actor Dave Madden starred as the band's manager Reuben Kincaid). At the time, there was really no such thing as "omnimedia", and Academy Award-winning performers like Shirley Jones generally did not cross-over to the humble medium of broadcast television until they had reached the end of their careers. However, Shirley Jones broke with that tradition, saying she thought that was ridiculous.  She had already won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for playing a vengeful prostitute in "Elmer Gantry" in 1960. But by the early 1970's, she viewed television as a useful, respectable way to earn a living acting while raising a family. 

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Jones said: "The problem with Partridge—though it was great for me and gave me an opportunity to stay home and raise my kids—when my agents came to me and presented it to me, they said if you do a series and it becomes a hit show, you will be that character for the rest of your life and your film career will go into the toilet, which is what happened. But I have no regrets." 

As a result of the show, her step-son David Cassidy became a teen idol by playing the role of Keith Partridge, the son of character Shirley Partridge (played by Shirley Jones), in the hit TV show "The Partridge Family" which ran on ABC from 1970 to 1974, although reruns of the show continued running in syndication for years after the show's original run. 

Famous Father, With Family a History of Alcohol Abuse 

Actor Jack Cassidy
David Cassidy was the son of the late actor and singer Jack Cassidy, who was himself a musical performer on Broadway, winning a Tony Award in 1964 for Best Performance by a Featured Actor for his role as Steven Kodaly in the play "She Loves Me". On television, during the 1950's and 1960's, Jack Cassidy became a very frequent guest star on TV, appearing in a wide variety of TV shows, including on "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour", in "Gunsmoke", "Bewitched", "Get Smart", "That Girl", "Hawaii Five-O", "Cannon", "McCloud" and also as a guest star on various TV game shows of the day, including the "Match Game". 

David Cassidy was a son from Jack Cassidy's first marriage to actress Evelyn Ward. However, Jack Cassidy was known to have problems with alcoholism (in addition to suffering from bipolar disorder), which contributed to the failure of his multiple marriages, and ultimately, his untimely death. Jack Cassidy married Shirley Jones on August 5, 1956. Together, they had three sons, Shaun, Patrick, and Ryan. As noted, David Cassidy was actually Jack's son from his first marriage to actress Evelyn Ward, hence Shirley Jones became his stepmother. Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones split-up in 1974 following Jack Cassidy's 1973 diagnosis as manic depressive and bipolar disorder. David Cassidy's birth mother Evelyn Ward died in 2012.

Jack Cassidy died rather tragically at just age 49 in an apartment fire in 1976. The forensics showed that the fire was caused by a cigarette which he was smoking at the time which ignited a naugahyde (synthetic leather) sofa he'd passed out on due to his intoxication. He was already divorced from his second wife Shirley Jones at the time, but it's believed that he came home drunk after going out to a gay bar in West Hollywood, where he was seen by many witnesses the evening before. 

Before his own death, son David Cassidy also went on the record acknowledging his own father as bisexual, citing personal accounts and reports, both anecdotal and published, of his father's known same-sex affairs, something that neither he nor his siblings knew about until after the father's death. But in her 2013 memoir, Shirley Jones also wrote that Jack Cassidy had several same-sex affairs during her marriage to him, including a notable one with famous composer and songwriter Cole Porter. 

However, Shirley Jones went on record in her biography about how her ex-husband Jack Cassidy tried to push the limits of her sexuality and she said that, combined with his alcohol abuse, depression and bipolar disorder ultimately led to her filing for divorce. 

(see for more)

Anyway, David Cassidy then was able to take the fame he'd gained from his TV career (he starred in nearly 100 episodes of "The Partridge Family") and turn it into fame as a pop singer in the seventies. But as time passes, aging teen idols aren't guaranteed ongoing success once the spotlight is no longer following them. David Cassidy later said that he found his sitcom role to be very stifling, and that he had issues with the tabloid fame that "surrounded" his every move.

In May 1972, perhaps in an effort to alter his public persona which was so connected to the TV character Keith Partridge, David Cassidy appeared completely nude on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in a cropped Annie Leibovitz photo; among other things, although the accompanying Rolling Stone article also mentioned that Cassidy was riding around New York in the back of a car "stoned and drunk".

His gamble paid off initially; as he did get invited on the TV talk show circuit, and even landed a few guest roles on TV. There was also brief renewed interest in his vocal talent. But his underlying drinking problem never really disappeared, even with a risky gamble to shed his puritanical public persona by posing nude in a national magazine. For the record, the image and the article from that can be viewed online at:

Failed Marriages and Alcoholism Reminiscent of His Father's 

David's own first two marriages — first to actress Kay Lenz and subsequently to horse trainer Meryl Tanz — ended in divorce after only a few years each. David Cassidy had a daughter, Katie, back in 1986 with fashion model Sherry Williams, but he acknowledged "I've never had a relationship with her. I was her biological father but I didn't raise her." David Cassidy also had a son named Beau, in 1991. However, his wife divorced him shortly before his death and took sole custody of Beau, due in no small part to his alcohol abuse. 

Jack Cassidy: More Gay than Bisexual, But Was Forced Into Failed Marriages to Women During the Era of "The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name"

David's failed marriages were also eerily reminiscent of his own father Jack Cassidy's own failed marriages. However, it was important to note that David did not confront a necessity to try and behave as a heterosexual as his father did when he was coming of age and working as an actor. His son David simply inherited his problems with alcohol abuse.

In the years preceding his death, David Cassidy was relying very heavily on things like performing in low-paying dinner theaters and concert tours around the country for income. That's a tough way to earn a living, and it didn't pay very well. But more concerning was that like his father, David was definitely showing signs he was suffering from alcoholism, while his public denials proved he was not truly addressing the problem. 

For example, like many alcoholics, David Cassidy repeatedly assured family members that he was attending AA and going to rehab, and that he was no longer drinking. But there were clear clues he was lying. For example, in one notable concert performance, David Cassidy could not even remember the lyrics of a song he'd been performing for nearly 50 years, and he also fell off the stage. Not long after, he was also arrested in Florida for DUI. Those are clear signs of a drinking problem. 

Then, David Cassidy publicly announced that he was living with dementia and was retiring from all further performing (his desire to stop performing could have been to avoid another humiliating incident where he forgot lyrics during a performance, then falling off stage). He said that his mother and grandfather had also suffered from dementia at the end of their lives, and that "I was in denial, but a part of me always knew this was coming." 

But that was also completely false. He was definitely not suffering from dementia, rather he was suffering from chronic alcoholism and denial, plus his memory lapses while performing were due to his drinking, not due to dementia. 

Eventually, it finally looked as if he was finally facing his demons. In a surprisingly candid interview with an A&E producer (see the interview at for details), David Cassidy stated that he'd just met with his doctor, and he confirmed that he had liver disease, meaning his life had "changed dramatically." Cassidy added that he had been unconscious and near death for the first few days after the incident, he said since then, he claimed his memory had returned. Cassidy also acknowledged that there was "no sign of [dementia] at this stage of [his] life," adding that "[it] was complete alcohol poisoning – and the fact is, I lied about my drinking." Cassidy said, "You know, I did it to myself, man. I did it to myself to cover up the sadness and the emptiness."

Sadly, the A&E interview would be his last. David Cassidy passed away at the age of 67, on November 21, 2017. At the time, he was awaiting a liver transplant; as his own liver was so damaged from cirrhosis, but his doctors were unable to find a suitable, eligible liver from a deceased donor before he died. 

Impressively, as I write this, David's step-mother Shirley Jones is 88 years old as of 2022, and she shows no apparent sign of illness beyond simply her age. Since 2015, however, she has been a widow. For 38 years, she was married to Marty Ingels, himself the star of dozens of TV sitcoms in the 1960's, and he was also known as a bit of a comedian, until Marty died of a heart attack. Her three other sons with David Cassidy are still alive. Their marriage seemed to work, even though they drove one another crazy from time to time.

In 2020, Shirley Jones finally opened up to the celebrity magazine Closer (see for detail) about David Cassidy and his passing: 

"The idea that the little boy I came to know and love as my stepson would've turned 70 [in 2020] is astonishing to me," Shirley Jones told Closer. "And I am grateful for all the wonderful times we shared together." 

While he was alive, David was equally fond of Shirley (who married his father, actor Jack Cassidy, and played his mother on "The Partridge Family"). He was quoted as saying that Shirley "taught me so much about how to deal with fame and success," he said. "She's one of the best human beings I've ever known." He also became very close with her sons with Jack (who were David's half-brothers): Shaun, Patrick and Ryan.

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