Remembering teen heartthrob David Cassidy

Donna Gable Hatch, editor of Coast and Outer Banks Magazine, with David Cassidy in 1993. Cassidy died Nov. 21, 2017. He was 67.


David Cassidy has died. He was 67.

To some people, David was a teeny bop wannabe singer, but they couldn't be more wrong.

David was far more complicated. I know because I knew him. We met in 1993, when I was a reporter at USA Today, and he was on a tour to promote the addition of "The Partridge Family" reruns on Nickelodeon as part of the network's Nick at Nite lineup.

Meeting him was like reuniting with an old friend.

David had been part of our family since 1970 when the TV comedy about a widow with five musical children first aired on ABC. All of us — my mom, two sisters and brother — identified with the sitcom because Dad had died in 1969, leaving my mother a widow raising four children under the age of 13.

My younger sister felt an instant connection with David — not because he was absolutely adorable (which he was), but because she has always been a good "reader of people."

At a time when we all still mourned the loss of our patriarch, she bonded with someone we all thought she'd never meet. She admired his singing voice — and he did have a distinct voice — and she would put on shows and lip sync to David's music for neighborhood kids. She even had a white fringe jumpsuit, which was similar to the one David wore on tour (we all went to his concerts, and I make no apology: They were wonderful).

No one could have predicted that a quarter century later, I would be working at a major publication and assigned to interview David.

There had been a contest to promote the addition of the sitcom on the lineup, and the prize for a dozen winners was lunch with David at a D.C. restaurant. The plan was for me to interview David at his hotel before the lunch.

The people at Nickelodeon and I had a great professional relationship, and I asked if I could invite my sister along, since she'd been a lifelong fan. No problem, they said.

David was still adorable, and during the interview, he was open with me about his life, his struggles with alcohol after the sitcom was cancelled in 1974, the death of his father Jack Cassidy in a fire (he was drunk and fell asleep with a lit cigarette) and his — at the time — two divorces (he later married and divorced a third time). The interview was one of the favorites of my career. The plan was for my sister to head home after the interview, and I would go to the restaurant to interview some of the contest winners. But David said he didn't want the post-interview conversation to end, and he asked us to ride with him in the limo to the restaurant. Of course, we did, and it's an experience that warms my heart to this day.

I think he appreciated that my sister didn't fawn over him as a "teen heartthrob." There was nothing superficial about her admiration of him, and he knew it. (We have the limo ride on video tape, which makes it all the more special.)

The contest winners, predictably, were smitten kittens and fawned over him. He was charming and engaging, but his response belied what I and my sister knew to be the truth: He wanted to move past the onetime teen idol person and be taken seriously as a blues musician, his heart and soul.

After spending the majority of the day with him, it was hard to say goodbye — for all three of us. He'd confided that meet-and-greets and press tours were not his thing, and h enjoyed "just being David" for a while.

With hundreds of screaming fans waiting for him outside the restaurant — where the multi-colored school bus that carried the fictional Partridge Family to its gigs was waiting to carry him away — we said our goodbyes. The USAT photographer assigned to cover the event shot a photo of him saying goodbye to me, as he leaned out the bus window and held my hand.

We got together several times over the years: I met up with him at a comedy club in Georgetown where his on-screen cast mate, Danny Bonaduce, was performing standup, and I took my mom and sister to a performance of "Blood Brothers," in which David starred on Broadway (he was a greatly under-appreciated actor). We went backstage after the show, and he invited us to the cast party.

The past decade has been particularly rough for David; it's not easy for a former "teen idol" grow old, and he could never really move on from the Keith Partridge persona as he'd have liked. He had a few brushes with the law for drunken driving, he filed for bankruptcy, got divorced (his third) and earlier this year revealed he suffered from dementia. (Both his mother and grandfather had Alzheimer’s. David was an active supporter of the Alzheimer's Association. In 2013, he auctioned off some of his old costumes, including the iconic white fringe jumpsuit, to benefit the organization.)

His personal struggle to find his footing has been hard to watch.

So when you read reports of his death, read between the lines. David was a complicated, charming, generous — and somewhat tortured — soul who adored a father he tragically lost and from whom he'd inherited alcoholism, and he struggled to reinvent himself as age caught up with the eternally boyish former teen heartthrob.

My heart is a bit heavy today, but I know he wouldn't want that to be the case. His whole life, David tried to make others happy. So, rather than mourn him, I'll do what he wanted: "Come on, get happy."

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