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Saying Goodbye to a Childhood Idol

by on November 27, 2017 5:00 AM

I lost a part of my childhood last week when it was announced that 1970s teen idol David Cassidy had died from organ failure after several years of suffering from dementia. He was 67 years old.

David Cassidy was my generation’s Elvis Presley. He and the other actors in those Friday night television shows in 1970 were a part of a phenomenon that today’s youth will never get to experience.

1970. The year of the first Earth Day. Apollo 13. The year that Ford Motor Company introduced the Pinto.  In 1970, PBS broadcast for the first time. Paul McCartney announced he was leaving the Beatles.   Monday Night Football debuted on ABC. Gabrielle Giffords, Senators Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz, Mariah Carey, Kelly Ripa and Melania Trump were born in 1970.

In 1970, we didn’t have cell phones and computers and the Internet. We didn’t have 600 channels on cable or Netflix or Hulu or Game of Thrones or Stranger Things. The games we played used cards or a board with dice instead of handheld consoles and video screens.

In 1970, I was a 5th-grader in Mrs. Brewer’s class at Radio Park Elementary School and life was pretty simple. We wore culottes and Keds. We had library day on Tuesday and lunch tickets. We played games in backyards after school and rode our friend’s bus home with a note from our mothers for after-school playdates. We had sleepovers. Friday night TV was the best part of the week.  

The programmers at ABC had lined up what I still consider to be the best evening of television shows ever. “The Brady Bunch.” “Nanny and the Professor.” “That Girl.” “The Odd Couple.” “Love American Style.” Laugh tracks and 22 minutes to tell a story and entertain us and do so without the sex or violence or “adult language” of so many of today’s television programming.

The anchor show at 8:30 was “The Partridge Family,” starring David Cassidy.

The theme of the show was based on the real singing family The Cowsills who had had some moderate radio success in the late 1960s. The Partridge Family would tell the story of a singing family, balancing fame with regular family life in the suburbs.  The cast was built around acclaimed Broadway singer and actress Shirley Jones. David Cassidy, Jones’ stepson in real life, was brought in to play Keith Partridge.  

The songs were originally planned to be performed by studio musicians with the actors and actresses (except for Shirley Jones) lip syncing the music and simulating play on the instruments.

And then David Cassidy convinced them that he could sing.

The first song by the Partridge Family, featuring David Cassidy as the lead singer, was actually released on radio prior to the start of the show in the fall of 1970. As the song was climbing up the charts, eventually reaching the top spot on Billboard’s Top 100, we were getting to know Keith and Laurie and Danny and the other members of the Partridge Family every Friday night. His antics as a teenager who was the face of his family’s “band” were a thread in each episode. They sang a new song each week. We loved it.

David Cassidy. The posters in my room. The Teen Beat magazines. The lunch box. I bought every album they released. We talked about him at school  – his hair, his new song, the last episode we watched.  I remember how the Partridge Family even spilled into what we played at recess.

It was like a part of my youth died when I heard of his passing.

Last week, as I was preparing for family and festivities for the holiday, I put The Partridge Family channel on my Internet radio on my cell phone and blasted it over Bluetooth through my wireless speakers. It wasn’t vinyl on a turntable with a penny on the arm to stop the much played record from skipping but the music sounded the same. I smiled as I sang along, remembering almost every word and how cool David Cassidy was to that 5th grade girl.  

Eventually we moved on. Somehow in middle school, David Cassidy and the Partridge Family were no longer cool. We evolved to harder rock and abandoned our teen idols. Friday night TV eventually gave way to high school football games and our own teenage drama.

For David Cassidy, moving on from The Partridge Family wasn’t as easy. Cassidy eventually tired of the image of Keith Partridge and the typecasting that comes with that level of fame. His attempts to change his image and to try new music or new roles were met with frustration. The tabloids reported on his stumbles. Addiction. Failed marriages. Arrests for driving while intoxicated and rehabilitation. It seems that David Cassidy spent his life trying to crawl out from under the shadow of Keith Partridge.

For the 5th grader in me, when I hear his amazing voice on those songs, I go back to lip syncing and the pre-teen choreography that my friends and I performed for the talent show at Radio Park and smile. It may not have been his dream but, for a short while, he was a part of ours.

Rest in peace David Cassidy.


 



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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