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David Cassidy …. A Personal Remembrance

I once watched him address kids at a high school--trying to tell them of the dangers of drugs and alcohol (which he felt he knew about all too well).  But the kids weren't interested in that.  They asked  him questions about his rise to fame, wanting him to tell them the secrets to getting rich and famous and happy.  He tried to tell them that being a celebrity  wasn't all it was cracked up to be, that drugs and alcohol had only  brought him great sadness.  Afterwards, he told me, "They didn't want to hear that; they didn't want to listen.  I wouldn't have listened at their age, either.  Kids will always have stars in their eyes."    

David Cassidy on cover of Life magazine

By Chip Deffaa

I’m sorry to note the passing of David Cassidy. And I want to share a few  remembrances of him–as a performer and as a person.

He was capable of conveying magic in his concerts–a “Peter Pan” figure, eternally young. On stage, he managed to seem–for decades–to be a kind of happy-go-lucky teenager.  And he never got tired of having fans–whether gals or guys–tell him he’d been their first crush.

He was also capable of excellent work in musical-theater.  He was terrific, for example, in “Blood Brothers,” which he did both on Broadway and on tour, surprising many with his strong, legit voice.  He did “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on Broadway, too.  And in younger days got to sing duets with the wonderful Dorothy Loudon in a very short-lived Broadway musical, “The Fig Leaves are Falling.”  And he did also shows on the London stage.   I wish he’d done more theater.  He was very good at it–better than he realized.

David Cassidy

Offstage, there was enormous sadness in David Cassidy, a lot of insecurity, a lot of loneliness.

When he was really depressed, really in a dark mood, you really felt it.  It was hard for me to be around him when he got really down on himself.   There didn’t seem to be anything you could do for him at such times.  And he had a marked tendency towards depression.

I was delighted when David asked me to collaborate with him on his memoir, “C’Mon Get Happy” (Warner Books); he told me I could ask him anything; there’d be no secrets between us. He would tell me everything, he said, and we could decide later whether to include it in the book or not. I liked his openness.

David Cassidy on Rolling Stone cover

And I liked him, and told him so. He  responded: “You may be like me now. When you get to know me better, you probably won’t like me so much. And you’ll probably turn on me; everyone does.”

He felt that many had turned on him over the years–starting with a famous father (actor Jack Cassidy) who’d had little time for David as a boy and left David nothing in his will.  (David bought his father’s pocket watch at an estate sale, just to have something of his.)  And he noted bitterly that most of the Hollywood movers-and-shakers who treated him like a golden boy when he was on top ignored him when his popularity faded.

David Cassidy on beach

At his peak in early 1970s, David Cassidy was the highest paid, most popular male solo concert artist in the world. He received 25,000 fan letters per week.  And he became a virtual prisoner in his own home.  He could not go anywhere without being mobbed. (Once, when he broke box-office records at Atlantic City’s famed Steel Pier, he donned drag–a woman’s dress and wig–just so he could  pass through a crowd unnoticed.)  He had a hard time coping with the fame, and all of the craziness connected with it.

David Cassidy on the Partridge family

It was exhilarating for him to perform for fans who screamed non-stop through his triumphant Madison Square Garden concert; it was frightening to him that hysterical fans wrecked limousines parked in front of the Garden. (Security got him out of the concert by wrapping him in a blanket and placing him in the trunk of a Toyota; they drove him to a cheap motel in Queens.)

He was horrified that hundreds of his fans were injured at one  concert in England when everyone rushed towards the stage to be closer to him–and one fan was actually crushed to death in the frenzy. He isolated himself in his home after that, drinking and drugging to excess, just numbing himself.  His parents made vain attempts to intervene.  (You could not argue with David, if he wanted to do something.)

David Cassidy, revisiting his boyhood home

He had innumerable sexual encounters with fans (which he could describe at great length  in vivid detail), but they did not assuage his basic loneliness, he told me.  They often were not emotionally satisfying, he said.  He felt that many of his fans imagined he was the character he played on TV (“Keith Partridge” of “The Partridge Family”)–and he knew that character was nothing like him.  (He eventually married three times; his marriages all ended in divorce.)

On TV and on stage, David Cassidy sang light, cheery bubblegum pop songs. Offstage, he preferred the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, B. B. King, John Mayall, Albert King, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, the Beach Boys, Albert King. And could also appreciate the songs of the Gershwins and the big-band music of Artie Shaw.

David Cassidy made and lost millions.  He eventually wound up declaring bankruptcy. He would tell me, in that endearingly vulnerable way he had–he always reminded me of a wounded sparrow: “It doesn’t matter how much money I make; I’ll just lose it anyway.”

He was not materialistic. He didn’t have many possessions or mementos from the years when he was on top.  And he wasn’t really interested in dwelling on

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Jason Sheldon/REX/Shutterstock (1976191c) David Cassidy ‘Once In A Lifetime’ concert at the LG Arena, Birmingham, Britain – 09 Nov 2012

He told me his family had lived simply when he was a boy; they could not afford a clothes dryer; the clothesline in the backyard worked just fine, he said. One day, he had me drive him to his boyhood home–23 Elm Street, West Orange, NJ. (I took the black-and-white photo of him revisiting his boyhood home.)  It made him happy, he said, that the house hadn’t changed. And that the clothesline was still out back.

He wanted to see the local store (“Tory Corners”) where his grandfather had bought him a Slinky and a Mr. Machine–popular toys of the time–when he was nine or ten.  And the woods where he used to play.  And the church where he sang in the choir (“before Hollywood wrecked me,” he said).

Driving  back to New York City on Route 3, he showed me the exact spot where his father had told him, when he was a kid,  that his father and mother were divorced.  The wounds still seemed fresh as he spoke  of those days.  He carried his hurts with him.  He did not, as a rule, let them show in interviews he did on radio and TV; there he used his best acting skills (sometimes saying words I’d helped craft for him), suggesting he was happy with his life and optimistic about the future.  Offstage though, he was frank in saying that very little gave him much satisfaction, that life was a real struggle.

If I asked him to share a happy memory, it was apt to be from before he ever tasted fame.  Maybe hiking with his best friend, in his teens–just getting back to nature, skinny-dipping.  Simple pleasures.

I once watched him address kids at a high school–trying to tell them of the dangers of drugs and alcohol (which he felt he knew about all too well).  But the kids weren’t interested in that.  They asked  him questions about his rise to fame, wanting him to tell them the secrets to getting rich and famous and happy.  He tried to tell them that being a celebrity  wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, that drugs and alcohol had only  brought him great sadness.  Afterwards, he told me, “They didn’t want to hear that; they didn’t want to listen.  I wouldn’t have listened at their age, either.  Kids will always have stars in their eyes.”

I liked David.  I even made him a character in one of my plays. A picture of David and me has graced  my wall for about a quarter-century.  He looks so happy in that particular shot–it was taken on a good day.  I’m very sorry he’s gone.

David’s last words, according to a tweet from his daughter, actress Katie Cassidy, were “So much wasted time….”

David Cassidy and Chip Deffaa

9 Comments on David Cassidy …. A Personal Remembrance

  1. He was a man of his word. He gave as much as he could to his fans in the early days. I went to 2 of his concerts, one at belle vue Manchester, the other at main road man cities ground he gave his all. At this time you could see he was washed out. A very tired David explained to his fans why we would not see him much anymore, it broke my heart, but i understood, as he was so drained. True to his word, it was 10yrs or so when i was on way to Butlins in wales, that i heard, This will be the last kiss. I said to my then husband, Thats David Cassidy, in a thrilled voice. I had so missed him, a husband and 3 children on, he still made my heart skip a beat. I followed him as much as i could. After a divorce, and grown up kids, and a grandchild, at 38yrs old, i lived with a guy who was a David fan. We went to see his later concerts in Liverpool, and Manchester, he gave his total all again, he was bril. I always hoped i would get to see him again in concert, but is not to be. Think all i want to say is thank you David for being there in my young years, for making me feel so happy, with all the great songs you sang, for understanding we did not just love you, we really loved you, you are in our hearts. xx Sue

  2. Such a thoughtful article.It is great you told him how much you liked him and clearly you got to know him well. David would talk about wanting to reveal who he really was… You have helped to reveal what many have failed to understand… he was just a guy underneath… vulnerable like so many..

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I feel, after reading this, perhaps I’ve been able to understand him a little bit better and it also confirms some of my own reflections after reading/seeing interviews with him, where he sort of always had a happy-everything is at top-face, but where at least I feel I could sense things maybe really were not and that he had a troubled soul(dont know why, but perhaps it was said in a bit too overconvincing way, or his eyes told something different) I didnt follow his career over the years,( not being american, there wasnt much in the media in Sweden, this being before internet and then I guess it kind of faded away for me)or for that matter, follow his other problems later in life. However, his passing brought out memories I wasnt prepared for and I was really affected by it. So I started reading about him, sort of catching up AND also listening to his music, which I feel I now can appreciate in a much greater way, which also leeds me to one, how much of it that is timeless (news to me,since I was way too young understanding it back then, it was done by really good creators) and sounds great still today, and two, he was such an underestimated singer, at least how I recall it from back then, its a shame on how the focus on his looks took that part aside, and today I am able to fully understand his greatness and what a superb singer he really was.(and when stepping out from the PF songs, what a great taste he had in music, many of the songs/covers he chosed to record, are favourites of my own since decades, and I had no idea he’d also done them, good news is, I am now enlightned and able to enjoy them aswell!) Also, considering how young he was, when a lot of the early stuff was recorded (and under such a pressure, I now realise) its remarkable, how good it sounds still until this day. In terms of proffessional work, I so wish he had that acknowledgement about himself. Perhaps he did, perhaps not. Its so sad although, realising that what he went through that few intense years, at such a young age, had such a huge effect on the rest of his life and perhaps of his soul and wellbeing overall.

  4. Buzz and is still one person who will never be beat no one could ever be David again David is loving and caring and giving and I never met him but I did email him one time at one of his promoters office and told him about a friend of mine who was dying of cancer and she wasn’t Avid fan loved him more than anything in this world and he did email her giving her well wishes and praying for her all Americal happened and she did not die or cancer is in remission and remains that way to this day and I thank him for emailing her as I told him about her situation he did not have to do that but he did and I will always remember that of David no one can ever put him down and many others we all love him and made him and he made us too to be better people and brought a lot of his fans together sweet dreams on your Island in heaven David Cassidy love Sandra Markley

  5. David was a greatly underestimated talent. He is missed. Thanks for the article, I just got through reading the book.

  6. julia m harrison // December 11, 2017 at 2:49 pm // Reply

    David Cassidy has been a great influence on me for many years. He gave so much of himself to all his fans and over shadowed by his talent he forgot to take care of himself. Needing the love and respect of his own father did not help as he desperately needed his love. David was 26yrs of age when Jack Cassidy died. The same age as Beau Cassidy is now. David managed to show the love he had for Beau, something his own dad never did, David did become the father he always wanted to be. David left a legacy that few would be able to follow. But it will not stop us from enjoying his music and acting skills. God bless you David. R I P xx

  7. I really appreciate your thoughts and views on David, there are alit of Good people who are taken advantage of. It’s thier goodness in side that people really see that they view it through the Materials of The World. David had god given gifts. He was and will be a Strong example for ever, his words of wisdom in his suffering from those who took his Talent,Trust,Love,and wounded him like a work horse to line thier pockets. Will teach others his words like his lyrics in his songs. They will ring forever.

  8. Philip Clark // November 26, 2017 at 4:23 pm // Reply

    It’s such a great and sad irony that David Cassidy, who brought such immense happiness, joy and inspiration to millions, was himself so tortured and troubled. He was incredibly gifted and talented and it’s a tragedy that in his own lifetime he didn’t fully appreciate that himself or receive the full recognition he so rightly deserved. David Cassidy had a huge impact on my life and was/is a great source of inspiration. He will remain so for the rest of my days. I’m so incredibly grateful that I got the opportunity to tell him that in person. Thank you for your great article.

  9. That is very sad and poignant story about David. I think that he was thrust in a business do to his family circumstances that was not really suited to him. I am sorry to hear he never fully matured and was able to step out of his own worries and worked with other people and their problems, as He probably didn’t have a chance to, with his addictions and depression. He might have been clinically depressed. One thing is he was on a show that made many laugh and he showed many of us, not to think that if you have money and a famous family, life isn’t that glamorous. His father had his own demons and died a terrible death, smoking in bed. Sorry to think that his time here was wasted. It really wasn’t.

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