I was so sad to watch the news last week of David Cassidy’s illness and death. Sad because it felt as though the last part of my youth had died, and also sad because he was such a typical case of too much fame at too early an age. His very public decline into multiple divorces, estranged family, bankruptcy, alcohol abuse and dementia was awful to see. He was so bitter about what happened during the Partridge years, and so determined not to end up like his mother who suffered for a long time with dementia before she died. In a way perhaps his death at 67 – nine months after he announced he had dementia – was a relief from his suffering.
Cassidy started to fall in his early twenties, crushed by the huge record companies and the obsessive love of his fans.
In many ways, young stars today – such as Justin Bieber – have a much easier time of it. They can develop a following on YouTube and other social media, independent of the clutches of greedy record companies. Companies that have bled so many young naive stars dry. Having become influencers and stars on social media first, they have a stronger negotiating position. Or they have a plethora of smaller independent labels to choose from.
David Bowie, David Cassidy, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, John Fogerty, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles etc etc were all screwed over by their record companies – slave contracts, no rights to merchandising, no rights to their own catalogues. David Bowie actually started helping artists show their paintings so that they would not fall prey to slave contracts capitalising on their work the same way he did.
David Cassidy originally signed a contract with Sony Pictures Television that was not that generous. I guess the company figured they were willing to take a financial gamble on an unknown. He was then catapulted to fame and was able to re-sign one contract which he had signed while he was underage, but he still had no rights to any of the merchandising, any of the income from his fan club (which was bigger than that of the Beatles and Elvis combined) and just earned a salary. He filmed the Partridge Family all day during the week, recorded music all night and then toured over weekends. But at the end of it all, when the music companies and the fans had broken him, he ended up with no money and sleeping on friends’ sofas at the age of 24, while Sony Pictures Television had made $500m off the back of David Cassidy merchandise, magazines, posters and games.
He never quite recovered from that, though he did write the theme music for the John Larroquette show, create ‘Ask Harriet’ and was also a success in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Emotionally though, he was stunted and very bitter. Those years of loneliness and isolation when he could not move anywhere without the risk of being torn apart left their mark. In his biography he writes about no hotels allowing him to stay because of the fans, and ending up alone in rundown motels in his sweaty spangled stage jumpsuit. His entourage were off partying somewhere else while he did not even know where he was and was totally alone. What an awful life. Hysterical fans had so much to do with that. We ruined him with our love. We would literally have torn him apart if we had come anywhere near him. And we didn’t even know him. We loved Keith Partridge. And teenage hearts are fickle. As we grow up we move on, leaving most of our idols behind to eke out a living doing panto and ‘best of’ compilations which end up in the bargain bin. A rare few stars make it beyond teenybopper stardom without the bands or the members imploding – Robbie Williams, George Michael, David Bowie, and of course the Rolling Stones. All of them had major drug problems at one stage or another though.
It was not easy being a fan in those days. No MTV, no social media, no Instagram. We used to wait a week for our Jackie posters (4 weeks if it was those huge ones you collected week by week), play our seven singles on our portable record players and write love letters to his fan club. Now you can download computer wallpaper, follow Twitter and Instagram and download songs on iTunes. In a way it must diffuse all that passion that fans bottled up and let out during his concerts. He was one slight, young figure on those huge stages. He was not part of a band. That was a lot of responsibility and passion resting on those delicate shoulders and breathy voice. In addition he did not have the best home life, and always wanted to be a down ‘n dirty rock ‘n roll star instead of a teeny bopper idol.
Listening to him and watching him over the past few years has been painful. Unfortunately YouTube is full of dreadful performances, rambling monologues, bitter interviews, his bankruptcy. Ultimately it is so very very sad. For us though, he will be forever young. RIP David. I hope you are finally at peace.