The untold truth of David Cassidy
David Cassidy passed away on Nov. 21, 2017 after a brief hospitalization for organ failure. Best known for playing Keith Partridge, the heartthrob lead singer and guitar player for the fictional family band, The Partridge Family, Cassidy went on to a colorful entertainment career that included successful runs on Broadway, television, and as a touring musician.
But like many longtime entertainers, Cassidy also battled demons in his life: strained family relationships, failed marriages, substance abuse, and crippling health problems. You already know that Keith Partridge became a real-life teen pop sensation, but this is the story of the man behind the gloriously feathered hair and sequined jumpsuits. It’s the untold truth of David Cassidy.
He had a complicated relationship with his daughter
Although today’s generation may not have grown up on The Partridge Family, they might have known Cassidy through his daughter, Katie Cassidy, an up-and-coming actress who’s appeared on popular TV shows Gossip Girl and Arrow.
As Katie rose to fame, the father-daughter duo appeared to have an amiable relationship, as evident by this joint interview from People in 2009. However, by February 2017, David had completely changed his tune, alleging to People that he “never had a relationship” with his only daughter. “I wasn’t her father. I was her biological father but I didn’t raise her,” he said. Katie grew up with Cassidy’s ex-girlfriend, Sherry Williams, and stepfather. “She has a completely different life.”
In a separate article, also published in February 2017, People reported that Katie had become estranged from her father after a falling out.
He had dementia
David Cassidy spent the last part of his life battling dementia, a diagnosis he revealed to People in February 2017. “I was in denial, but a part of me always knew this was coming,” said Cassidy, whose grandfather and mother also battled the disease.
The revelation came about a day after TMZ obtained footage of Cassidy performing at a concert. In the video, he’s seen slurring, falling down, and forgetting his lyrics. The footage led some to wonder if Cassidy had relapsed after a years-long battle with alcoholism (more on that one in a moment,) something the former Partridge Family star was well aware of. “I was concerned people would mistake my alcoholism with my diagnosis,” he told People. “It’s a tricky business.”
After revealing his diagnosis to People, Cassidy said he was stepping away from the stage to focus on his health. “I want to focus on what I am, who I am and how I’ve been without any distractions,” he said. “I want to love. I want to enjoy life.”
He claimed he was very close with his son
Despite the tough relationship with his daughter, Cassidy told People in February 2017 that he had a strong relationship with his only son, Beau Cassidy, whom he had with his third ex-wife, Sue Shifrin.
“He’s just one of the best people you’ll ever meet in your life and it’s that that I’m proud of,” David told the magazine. Addressing his dementia diagnosis, David said his son “knows that I’m just a little off. Sometimes he cocks his head at me a little bit and goes, ‘Dad do you remember?’ and I say, ‘No, I know I do, I remember.’ He’ll give me reminders once in awhile.” David added, “He just turned 26. He’s such a beautiful person.”
In a touching remembrance post on Instagram, Beau simply captioned a playful photo of him and his dad with, “I’ll always, always love you.”
He was an alcoholic
In the handful of years prior to his dementia diagnosis, David Cassidy made multiple headlines for his ongoing battle with alcohol. According to People, he was arrested for DUI in 2010, then again in 2013 and 2014. Shorly after his third DUI arrested, Cassidy—who had been in and out of rehab—confessed to being an alcoholic.
“If I take another drink, I’m going to die, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I’m dead,” Cassidy told CNN‘s Piers Morgan in March 2014. “You know, they say it’s a slippery slope… It’s not a slippery slope. It’s from 12:00 to 6:00 on the clock and the whole face is ice. One sip, one drink, because there is no such a thing, not to an alcoholic. You have one and you’re—you’re done. I’d be done.”
A woman claims she is his illegitimate love child
Shelly Wright came forward to Radar Online in 2013, claiming to be Cassidy’s love child from a one-night stand he supposedly had with her mother, Donna G. Wallace, who claimed to have hooked up with Cassidy while she was separated from her husband, “famed Nashville songwriter, James Bohon” in 1973. Wright claims that she went public after getting “the run around” from Cassidy’s publicist, who allegedly went so far as to send her a fake hair for a DNA test.
“I just want him to finally acknowledge me. I’m not getting any younger and I just want some closure. I want to meet my dad,” said Wright, who also insists she’s not looking for any kind of payout. Eventually, she reportedly touched base with Cassidy’s son, Beau, who agreed to help but failed to follow through.
In a last ditch effort, Wright wrote an open letter to Cassidy in 2014, published by Express, which read, in part: “This is not a gimmick. It’s not a game. I’m frustrated and desperate, and I just want David to know that I’ve been trying to contact him…From the bottom of my heart, I’m begging David Cassidy–the man that I believe is my father–to agree to a DNA test. Then, and only then, will I find the truth.”
As of this writing, it’s unclear if Wright got the closure she sought.
He was married three times
In 1977, Cassidy met Kay Lenz on a blind date. Two and a half months later, they were married, according to People, though the “whirlwind romance” would only last four years. In retrospect, Lenz told People that she wasn’t equipped to handle the fame that came along with marrying a teen idol and that there was no single thing that broke them up. She was just “unhappy,” although she wasn’t sure why.
Just as Cassidy’s marriage to Lenz was winding down, he reconnected with an old acquaintance that he knew through a shared passion for horse breeding, Meryl Tanz. After a chance meeting with the South African horse breeder at a race in Illinois, Cassidy fell head over heels. “We haven’t been apart since. In his rock days, he was remote. Now he has time for me,” she told People. But again, the romance wouldn’t last. Cassidy and Tanz split just two years later in 1986.
Cassidy’s third marriage would be his longest. He wed Sue Shifrin-Cassidy in 1991. Though they went strong for more than two decades, they split in 2015 in what turned into an ugly, albeit secretive settlement that resulted in Cassidy declaring bankruptcy and selling his South Florida home, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Shirley Jones was his stepmom in real life
Though they played blood relatives on The Partridge Family, Shirley Jones and David Cassidy actually shared a connection via marriage in real life. Shirley got hitched to Cassidy’s dad, actor Jack Cassidy, when David was 3-years-old, but according to a 2006 UK Sunday Express interview, it was nothing like their TV family.
“[Jack] was jealous of Shirley, who was a big star at 21, and then he was jealous of me,” David told the paper, claiming his father was “a manic depressive and an alcoholic” who was “consumed with Irish Catholic guilt.”
Jack and Shirley split up in 1974 after a chaotic several decades together, according to HuffPost. Despite his dad and stepmom’s marital struggles, David maintained affection for Shirley, confessing to the UK Sunday Express, “I don’t see her often, but I love her. She was a good role model and friend. She taught me a lot about dealing with fame.”
Unfortunately, that seems to have changed over time. According to Shirley, who spoke with Closer Weekly in 2015, “David has not had a relationship with anyone in the family for years. We are sick over it.”
He had beef with Don Johnson
In Cassidy’s heyday, he was as big a celebrity as one could become. He once told EW that his “fanzine” publisher received up to 25,000 letters from adoring fans per day. Naturally, Cassidy rubbed shoulders with some other huge stars of the era, including Don Johnson of Miami Vice.
Cassidy wasn’t impressed with the ’80’s TV icon. In his book, C’Mon, Get Happy…Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus,” Cassidy describes Johnson as “a blatantly rude egomaniac, who snubbed him badly at a party.” Cassidy later told the StarTribune, “I was more than kind to him in the book. I don’t call him every name I could.” He added, “If I saw him today, he’d probably apologize. He needs friends, because he doesn’t have many. In Hollywood you hear Don Johnson stories. You never hear David Cassidy stories.”
He didn't love his teen idol image
Cassidy also revealed to the StarTribune that despite achieving dizzying fame as a pop sensation, he would have rather been known for his more serious artistic work.
“I had everything I wanted–except creative expression,” Cassidy said. “I created this total airhead. He was a bimbo, and people thought that was me. They don’t take you seriously if you appeal to young people, like it’s less important.”
Cassidy said he has no regrets about walking away from that character, even if it temporarily damaged his marketability in Hollywood. “It’s inevitable that I went out of fashion,” he said. “I walked away from it with my integrity, because I didn’t want to end up being some tragic clown, sitting in some hotel lounge.”
But he’s not entirely bitter about the experience. In fact, in 2012, Cassidy kicked off a nostalgia tour which covered his four-decade career, and he happily included those bubblegum tracks that elevated him to stardom. “I do the songs people expect to hear whether they’ve seen me a hundred times or one time they won’t be disappointed, he told the Phoenix New Times. “Of course I do the hits.”
He was a legit musician
Cassidy is, of course, known for the classic track from The Patridge Family, “I Think I Love You,” as well as his own subsequent chart-toppers, such as “Cherish,” “How Can I Be Sure,” and “Lyin’ to Myself.” But the former teen idol wasn’t just a pretty face playing pretend with a guitar. Long before he ever dreamed of being a TV star, Cassidy was playing in garage bands and honing the musical talents that kept him on the scene long after the teenyboppers lost interest.
According to Rolling Stone, this translated to Cassidy collaborating with The Beach Boys and George Michael, and even becoming pals with a certain legendary member of The Beatles. “John [Lennon] and I became good friends when he was recording Rock and Roll so I was able to come down to the studio a couple of times and if you could imagine Phil Spector walking around with a f***ing gun… It was nuts,” Cassidy told the magazine.
Cassidy also wrote, “I Write the Songs,” which, according to the StarTribune, eventually became Barry Manilow’s “signature song.” He also penned and performed The John Larroquette Show theme under the pseudonym, Blind Lemon Jackson.
In other words: Cassidy could have easily made a living performing under the disguise of Keith Partridge, but he chose to do it his own way, and it was through the creation of that fictional musical hero that Cassidy actually became one in his own right.