Student protesters shot by police at Kent State; U.S. troops secretly invading Cambodia; rock star Janis Joplin’s early death from a drug overdose- welcome to the year 1970 in America.
Into the middle of this, Screen Gems entertainment introduced “The Partridge Family,” a TV sitcom about a widowed mother and her five kids who start a pop band and tour in a multi-colored school bus. Playing the mom, Shirley Partridge, was Shirley Jones, well-known to audiences for her film musicals including “Oklahoma” and “The Music Man.” Cast as some of her TV show children would be Susan Dey (“LA Law”) as Lori, a teen with a social conscience; and Danny Bonaduce as Danny, the precocious middle son preoccupied with concocting business schemes while annoying the band’s manager, Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden).
“The Partridge Family” would give an opportunity to many up and coming talents including a pre-“Star Wars” Mark Hamill, “Charlie’s Angels’” Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith, Lou Gossett Jr., Richard Pryor, and Rob Reiner. It also featured performances by showbiz veterans including Johnny Cash, Dick Clark, Ray Bolger (“The Wizard of Oz”), Morey Amsterdam (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”), and teen idol Bobby Sherman.
However, it was Jones’ real-life stepson, David Cassidy, in his role as eldest son Keith Partridge, who would be launched to stardom by the show. Cassidy passed away November 21 at age 67 from liver failure.
When he originally auditioned for “The Partridge Family,” Cassidy had no idea Jones had been cast to play the TV mom. She had previously passed on the role of Carol Brady on the competing family sitcom “The Brady Bunch,” but “The Partridge Family” producers were right in guessing their combination of comedy and music would appeal to her.
Before auditioning Cassidy, the producers had checked with Jones to make sure the two could work together. Jones was fine with the idea despite the fact her stepson didn’t have a very close relationship with his father who was also her husband, actor and song and dance man Jack Cassidy.
With shoulder length hair and bell bottom pants (including velvet outfits for the show’s concerts), Cassidy’s Keith was a 1970s trendy teen who also was protective and occasionally egotistical. As the TV show’s producers had predicted, Cassidy was extremely popular with young audience members. He and another singing teen idol, Donny Osmond, competed for the affection of American girls on the covers of teen fan magazines such as Tiger Beat.
David Cassidy’s only hesitancy when accepting the role of Keith Partridge had been that it might typecast him as a bit too clean cut for his liking. When his prediction came true, Cassidy acted out some of his frustrations off-screen via alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately, those choices would ultimately the star’s health.
“The Partridge Family’s” plot followed the California-based family’s adventures as pop stars. The producers knew Jones could sing and counted on her providing the lead vocals. They had decided not to worry if the performers playing her kids could sing, too. Instead, the producers hired a team of professional studio singers to harmonize along with Jones for the various upbeat pop/folk songs the family would perform.
But, as soon as Cassidy recorded his part in the songs for the pilot episode, the producers realized they had a second musical talent on their hands. Cassidy could both sing and play guitar. Plus, his looks made him a teen heartthrob. So, an adjustment was made and his Keith became the band’s star while Jones’ Shirley remained the lead in the comedy plots.
Via “The Partridge Family,” Cassidy had hits with feel good songs such as “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat,” “Together (Havin’ a Ball),” and “I’m On the Road.” The biggest hit single was 1970’s “I Think I Love You,” outselling the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” And, when Cassidy launched a solo career, he had success with romantic ballads such as “How Can I Be Sure” and “Cherish.”
As a spin-off from his TV role, Cassidy launched a very successful solo concert career. He enjoyed touring until tragedy struck in 1974. That year, numerous fans were injured in both Australia and England, with a British fan dying after the crowd surged to see him. That tragedy impacted Cassidy who withdrew from massive concerts. After the conclusion of “The Partridge Family,” he continued to sing on TV specials and eventually went back to performing concerts on a more intimate scale in order to meet financial obligations.
In February of this year, Cassidy announced he would be retiring from performing due to dementia, a disease which had afflicted both his mother and grandfather. Even so, Cassidy’s death at 67 came as a shock to fans and colleagues. Tweets and remembrances poured in from performers including younger stepbrother Shaun Cassidy (himself a teen heartthrob later in the 1970s), Elton John, Donny and Marie Osmond, and former “Partridge Family” co-star Bonaduce. While his teen idol career had been relatively brief, Cassidy’s music left a positive impact on an entire generation of teens growing up in a turbulent era.