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David Cassidy: The Ultimate ’70s Teen Idol

The 'Partridge Family' star went through his share of ups and downs, but he'll always be an icon


When David Cassidy passed away at age 67 in 2017, it felt like the end of an era. In the eyes of countless fans who grew up watching him on The Partridge Family, listening to his catchy pop hits and hanging pinups of him in their bedrooms, he was forever young. Over 50 years after he became a household name thanks to his role as Keith Partridge, Cassidy remains the archetypal ’70s teen idol, and his trajectory from squeaky clean heartthrob to rebel has set the standard for many of the teen stars who followed in the ’80s, ’90s and beyond.

Here’s a nostalgic look back at how David Cassidy became a generation-defining star — and what he did after The Partridge Family.

Born into showbiz

Cassidy was born into the entertainment industry. His father, Jack Cassidy, and mother, Evelyn Ward, were both actors known for their Broadway roles and TV appearances. His parents divorced when he was young, and in 1956, Jack married Shirley Jones, who went on to play Cassidy’s mom in The Partridge Family.

MUST-READ: ‘Partridge Family’ Star Shirley Jones: 21 Photos of Her Life, Loves & 70-year Career

David Cassidy and Shirley Jones in 1970
David Cassidy with his onscreen mom (and real-life stepmom) Shirley Jones, in 1970Bettmann/Getty

Cassidy’s family connections helped him get his start in show business, and as a teen actor, he appeared in episodes of Ironside, The F.B.I., Adam-12, Bonanza and Medical Center. In 1970, his life changed forever when he was cast as Keith Partridge in The Partridge Family.

David Cassidy lived the teen dream

The Partridge Family, which centered on a widowed mom raising her five kids while performing as a family band, ran from 1970 to 1974, and perfectly mixed poppy style (who can forget the brightly painted school bus they toured in?) with wholesome family antics and catchy songs.

MUST-READ: 1970s TV Sitcoms: 106 Classic (and Not So Classic) Shows, and Where to Stream Them

David Cassidy in 'The Partridge Family' 1970
David Cassidy in The Partridge Family (1970)Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The show became a hit that captured the spirit of the early ’70s, and Cassidy, with his gloriously feathered hair and sweet smile, became the ultimate crush for millions of teen girls. Cassidy, who was in his early 20s at the time, was breathlessly covered in the media, and he quickly proved that he was more than just a pretty boy actor. He and his onscreen mom (and real-life stepmom) Shirley Jones were the only cast members with musical talent, and he sang “I Think I Love You,” the Partridge Family’s mega-hit. Decades after the song was released in 1970, it remains a bubblegum pop classic that we still can’t help but sing along with.

Cassidy began releasing solo albums in 1972, and soon enough he was selling out arenas and topping the charts on his own, his fame beginning to eclipse even the hit show he was on.

While all the Partridge kids became celebrities (including Cassidy’s onscreen sister, the lovely Susan Dey, who he was said to have briefly dated), he was the biggest star by far, with a level of fame rivaling Elvis or the Beatles.

MUST-READ: Susan Dey: Find Out What ‘The Partridge Family’ And ‘L.A. Law’ Star Is Doing Today

Susan Dey and David Cassidy in 1972
David Cassidy with his onscreen sister, Susan Dey, in 1972Bettmann/Getty

The struggles of stardom

While Cassidy was on the top of the world in the early ’70s, he developed mixed feelings about his success, and the constant exposure took a toll on him. In 1972, he infamously appeared nude on the cover of Rolling Stone, and in the featured interview said crude things about his young female fans, admitting to getting drunk and high and expressing a desire for the show to end.

In 1970 at the start of his 'Partridge Family' years
David Cassidy in 1970GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty

The cover and interview caused a major controversy, but it was all a conscious decision to shed his squeaky clean image, and decades later he told the magazine, “There comes a point when you want to hear your own voice.” Cassidy had his fun as a teen dreamboat, but he longed to be taken more seriously and be a rockstar rather than a popstar.

MUST-READ: Suzanne Crough: What Happened to the Child Actress Who Played Tracy on ‘The Partridge Family’

David Cassidy in 1971
David Cassidy in 1971Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

David Cassidy post-Partridge

After The Partridge Family was cancelled in 1974, Cassidy continued releasing music and in 1978 he appeared on a well-received episode of Police Story, which was then spun off into a short-lived series, David Cassidy: Man Undercover, where he played an undercover cop. Only 10 episodes aired before it was cancelled in 1979.

David Cassidy with his private plane, circa 1975
David Cassidy with his private plane in 1975Larry Ellis Collection/Getty

In the ’80s, Cassidy appeared in episodes of The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1990 he starred in two movies, Instant Karma and The Spirit of ’76, playing a TV star and a time traveler, respectively. He then made guest appearances in comedy shows like Blossom, The Ben Stiller Show and Malcolm in the Middle, and in 2005 he played millennial popstar Aaron Carter‘s manager in a straight-to-video movie titled (what else?) Popstar.

As he looked in 1989
David Cassidy in 1989Barry King/Getty

In 2009, Cassidy starred in the family sitcom Ruby & the Rockits as a former teen idol. Like David Cassidy: Man Undercover, it ran just 10 episodes, though it was created by his half-brother, Shaun Cassidy (who was also a teen star back in the day). His other half-brother, Patrick Cassidy, was his costar. David Cassidy had his final role in a 2013 episode of CSI, and released his final album in 2003.

David Cassidy in 1993
David Cassidy in 1993Bette Marshall/Getty

Sadly, as the ’00s and ’10s progressed, Cassidy faced personal demons, filing for bankruptcy and struggling with alcoholism that led to a number of DUI arrests. In 2017, he revealed he had dementia and died that year. Heartbreakingly, his daughter, actress Katie Cassidy, said his final words were, “So much wasted time.”

As hard as he tried, Cassidy could never truly escape his teen star image, and the majority of his post-Partridge Family parts alluded to his retro role in one way or another. Nonetheless, long after he first became famous, he still has a special place in the hearts of many fans.

The singer in 2009
David Cassidy in 2009Frazer Harrison/Getty

In one of his final interviews, Cassidy reflected on how surreal his stardom was, and said he came to have a greater appreciation of it over the years. As he put it, when it came to being a teen idol, he “didn’t have a lot of time to reflect on it because I was doing it,” and looking back, he said of his following, “I do have the most incredible fans… They’re loyal and so passionate. They seem to have this deep connection with the music and that whole era when I was starting out.”

With his indelible songs and thanks to Partridge Family reruns, that era lives on, bringing us back to a more fun and colorful time.

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