No TV show captured the hearts of early ’70s audiences quite like The Partridge Family. The sitcom, which centered on a family band, featured catchy songs (we bet you have the theme song in your head right now!), lovable antics and colorful style that perfectly embodied the era. During the show’s four year run, from 1970 to 1974, the young cast became teen idols. While countless girls had crushes on David Cassidy, who played Keith Partridge, Susan Dey, who played his sister, Laurie Partridge, was who we all wanted to be best friends with.
The Partridge Family may have made Dey a star, but the actress ultimately became much more than just a musical teen.
How Susan Dey got her start
Born in Illinois in 1952, Susan Dey started out as a young model. With her winsome expression, bright blue eyes and long, center-parted hair, she had a girl next door look that landed her in many teen magazines. She was such an approachable avatar for teen girlhood that she even appeared in tampon ads aimed at the demographic. It was this combination of beauty and a down to earth quality that won her the role as Laurie Partridge at just 17 years old in 1970.
While Laurie played keyboards and organ on the show, and provided harmonies to the sunny songs, Dey wasn’t actually a musician and her musical contributions (as well as those from most of the other cast members) were the work of session players. What Dey lacked in musical talent, she made up for in charm and good humor.
Teen star struggles
Growing up in public isn’t easy, and while Dey and her onscreen siblings projected positivity, Dey told The Washington Post that the strange dynamic of “feel[ing] like an adult but you are not an adult” was a challenge. The pressures of appearing onscreen sadly led to her developing an eating disorder during the show, and once The Partridge Family ended in 1974, she ran into the post-teen star issue of trying to avoid typecasting and underestimation of her abilities as a performer.
Long after the show went off the air, Dey severed ties with David Cassidy, her onscreen brother, after he crudely revealed that the two had a fling back in the day in his 1994 memoir. Not long before that, Dey’s struggles with alcoholism were exposed by tabloids without her consent. These events led her to be intensely protective of her personal life, and when addressing her alcoholism, she said, “I usually don’t talk about it because I feel it’s my business and nobody else’s.”
Dey’s post-Partridge career
Laurie Partridge inspired a generation of girls, so it was only fitting that Dey would play an iconic girl of an earlier era, and in 1978 she starred as Jo March in a Little Women TV miniseries (Eve Plumb, best-known as Jan from The Brady Bunch played Beth March, making it a true showcase for fans of ’70s sitcom sisters).
Dey didn’t break out as a movie star. Though she starred in movies like First Love (a 1977 coming-of-age tale), Looker (a 1981 thriller written and directed by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton) and Echo Park (a 1986 comedy in which she played an aspiring actress), none of them had as big a cultural footprint as The Partridge Family.
In the following years, Dey continued to act, making appearances in episodes of shows like S.W.A.T, Hawaii Five-O and Matt Helm in the mid-’70s. Like many actresses of her generation, she showed up in many a made-for-TV movie throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, racking up 20 credits in thrillers, melodramas and ripped-from-the-headlines stories on the small screen.
A triumphant return
In the ’80s, Susan Dey returned to the small screen in a big way, starring as district attorney Grace Van Owen on the popular legal drama L.A. Law. The show ran from 1986 to 1994, and Dey appeared in 126 episodes (more than The Partridge Family, which had 96 episodes) and a 2002 reunion TV movie. Grace was glamorous and powerful, and Dey was nominated for multiple Emmy awards and won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama Series in 1988.
As Grace, Dey got to flex her dramatic chops and have onscreen romances with hunky stars Harry Hamlin and Jimmy Smits. Dey relished the opportunity to challenge herself in the role, and only decided to leave the show once she felt there were “no new surprises.”
What is Susan Dey doing now?
After L.A. Law, Dey continued to act in TV movies and starred in the first season of the sitcom Love & War. In 2004, she acted in two episodes of the crime drama Third Watch. This would be her final onscreen appearance to date, as she’s since been happily retired from acting. Dey married producer Bernard Sofronski in 1988, and had a daughter from her first marriage in 1978.
Not much is known about what Dey’s been up to lately, and while syndications and ongoing ’70s nostalgia have solidified The Partridge Family‘s iconic status, Dey has no interest in being part of any reunions. Her onscreen mom, Shirley Jones, expressed disappointment that she was the only member of the fictional family who refused to reunite, but we appreciate Dey’s willingness to stick to her guns and embrace a private life — something that’s all too rare in Hollywood. (Click through to read more about ‘Partridge Family’ Star Shirley Jones: 21 Photos of Her Life, Loves & 70-year career)
Susan Dey has been famous for over 50 years now, yet she’s managed to keep an admirably low profile, while her onscreen work has impressively defined not one but two decades. Regardless, we hope to see more of this strong, dynamic actress in the future.
Read about more of your favorite ladies of the ’70s here: