In November 2017 David Cassidy passed away following a series of health problems that had plagued him for years. The singer and actor – initially launched to fame via The Partridge Family – had of course been one of the biggest heartthrobs of the early 1970s. But towards the end of his life, Cassidy had revealed to fans that he’d struggled with alcoholism and had been diagnosed with dementia. Then a phone call released after the star’s passing revealed that not everything about Cassidy’s untimely demise had been as it first seemed.
The official cause of Cassidy’s death, at the age of 67, was announced as liver failure. At the time of his passing, the star had also spent several days in a medically induced coma after having been rushed to hospital. And while Cassidy’s condition initially seemed to improve, the liver transplant he so desperately needed tragically didn’t materialize in time.
Yet that’s only half the story. You see, Cassidy had previously told the world that he was suffering from a debilitating illness. And even though the star had been lying to his fans about his condition, in the end it didn’t make any difference. So here’s a closer look at how the shocking truth of the singer’s final days was quite different to the tale that he’d led the world to believe.
At the beginning, then, it was arguably more or less inevitable that David Cassidy would forge a career in showbiz. His father, Jack, was a singer and his mother, Evelyn, an actress. Both often spent Cassidy’s early years pursuing their careers across the country too. Yet as a result, the future star was largely raised by his grandparents in the New Jersey township of West Orange.
Cassidy actually first began performing in his late teens, after relocating to New York to live with his father, his stepmother actress, Shirley Jones, and his three half-brothers. The aspiring star then signed with talent manager Ruth Aarons and made his Broadway debut in 1969’s short-lived musical The Fig Leaves Are Falling. That same year Cassidy guested on several TV shows, including Bonanza, Ironside and Medical Center.
Cassidy’s life changed forever in 1970, however, when he bagged the role of Keith Partridge on the musical family sitcom The Partridge Family. After all, the TV show quickly became one of the biggest hits of the era and established Cassidy as a bona fide teen idol. But the star found it difficult to cope with all the new-found attention.
In fact, Cassidy believed that the show was positioning him as something that he wasn’t. In a bid to shake off his squeaky-clean heartthrob persona, then, the singer famously posed in his birthday suit for the May 1972 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Cassidy was additionally reported to have been “stoned and drunk” during the accompanying interview.
Cassidy also allegedly felt that The Partridge Family was stifling his creativity. After all, the star and his co-star stepmother, Shirley Jones, recorded a staggering eight studio albums in just three years. But by the time the show came to an end and the group split in 1973, Cassidy had already started to enjoy some solo success.
In 1971, for instance, Cassidy reached the top tiers of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with the title track from his debut album, Cherish. And shortly after, he began touring the world with setlists that combined The Partridge Family tunes, such as number-one hit “I Think I Love You,” with his own work. Then in 1973 Cassidy scored a chart-topping album in the U.K. with Dreams Are Nuthin’ More Than Wishes.
“How Can I Be Sure,” “Could It Be Forever” and “Daydreamer” were just a few of the chart hits that proved Cassidy could cut it without his regular family-friendly backing band too. Yet his solo success seemingly still didn’t satisfy him. You see, Cassidy reportedly longed to be taken seriously as a Mick Jagger-esque rock star. But he unfortunately never managed to shake off his teen idol past.
The hysteria that Cassidy inspired was actually most evident when he hit the road. In fact, Cassidymania hit such a fever pitch during one particular Australian tour that the star was threatened with deportation. Another sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden in New York ended up sparking riots too. And sadly, the attention that followed Cassidy wherever he went soon resulted in tragedy.
In 1974, in fact, almost 800 concertgoers were injured at a London show due to a gate stampede. A 14-year-old girl also died four days after the incident having suffered a cardiac arrest. As a result, a devastated Cassidy decided to withdraw from the live circuit and focus his efforts on writing and recording songs.
Cassidy continued to enjoy chart success in the U.K., South Africa and Germany, thanks to hits such as “I Write the Songs.” He also picked up an Emmy nomination in the U.S. for his 1978 guest spot in Police Story. But the resulting spin-off series, David Cassidy: Man Undercover, failed to find an audience and was taken off the air after just a single season.
Yet despite his incredible success in the 1970s, Cassidy entered the following decade with barely a cent to his name. And things went from bad to worse when the star was replaced by one of his peers, Donny Osmond, in a revival of Little Johnny Jones. However, Cassidy bounced back with Broadway performances in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Blood Brothers.
And Cassidy continued to sporadically add to his catalog of hits as well. In 1985, for instance, he achieved success across Europe with “The Last Kiss,” a track featuring none other than George Michael on backing vocals. And five years later the singer achieved an unexpected U.S. top-40 single with “Lyin’ to Myself.”
Cassidy continued to record throughout the ’90s, too, and he also became a regular Las Vegas performer in shows such as EFX and At the Copa. Then, in the 2000s, the star enjoyed his first U.K. top-5 album in nearly 30 years with compilation Then and Now. He also played the father of a more recent teen idol, Aaron Carter, in the movie Popstar and worked with half-sibling Patrick on ABC Family sitcom Ruby & The Rockits.
But sadly the 2010s weren’t particularly kind to Cassidy. The singer was first arrested for being drunk behind the wheel in 2010. He then received a community service sentence for the same offence three years later. And in 2014 he was placed on five years’ probation and ordered to attend rehab after once again being caught suspected of driving under the influence.
Then, just over 18 months later, Cassidy was charged with various motoring offences, including leaving the scene of an accident. This was also during the same year that the star filed for bankruptcy. And all this woe had come in the wake of his third divorce; Cassidy had married Sue Shifrin, the mother of his second child, Beau, back in 1991.
In 2017, interestingly, Cassidy actually spoke about the non-existent relationship he had with his first child. Actress Katie Cassidy was born from the star’s brief relationship with Sherry Williams, a fashion model, in the mid-1980s. The singer told People magazine, “I was her biological father, but I didn’t raise her. She has a completely different life. I’m proud of her.”
Cassidy also lost his actress mother, Evelyn Ward, in 2012 to dementia. And shortly before her death, the star announced plans to campaign for the research and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease – even talking of addressing Congress about the issue. Then, in 2017, Cassidy dropped a bombshell of his own: he announced that he, too, was suffering from the same illness.
Concerns for Cassidy had in fact already begun. During a show in February 2017, you see, the star had struggled to remember certain song lyrics and took a tumble off the stage. That’s why Cassidy subsequently announced that he was withdrawing from the live circuit and that he had been diagnosed with dementia. He told People, “I was in denial, but a part of me always knew that this was coming.”
And in an emotional interview on The Dr. Phil Show shortly after going public with the news, Cassidy revealed how his diagnosis came about. He told the TV host, “When friends of yours or family members begin to say to you, ‘Remember, I just told you this two days ago,’ and there’s no memory of it, that’s when I began to be very concerned.”
A clearly emotional Cassidy told Dr. Phil that he was worried about mentally “disappearing” because of the disease in the same way that his mother had. He recalled a conversation with his 26-year-old son, Beau, in which he said, “I want you to promise me you’ll find a way to let me go. Don’t let me live like that.”
This apparently heartfelt discussion appeared to allay fears that Cassidy had fallen back off the wagon. Nine years previously, you see, the star had admitted that he had a problem with alcohol. Then in 2014 Cassidy had even sought help at a rehab facility. And some fans were concerned that his on-stage fall and slurring were signs that he was drinking again.
But Cassidy insisted that his worrying behavior had nothing to do with the demon drink. He told Dr. Phil, “I certainly wasn’t intoxicated, and it has nothing to do with why I’m leaving [the industry]. Certainly, my dementia has contributed to the reason why I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to hear, ‘Well, he looked like he was drunk.’ I wasn’t.”
Sadly, just nine months on from his Dr. Phil appearance, Cassidy passed away, aged 67. The star had been taken to hospital three days previously having suffered from kidney and liver failure. Then, after awakening from a medically induced coma, Cassidy was described as being in a critical yet stable condition. Within 24 hours, however, the star had succumbed to his illness.
Yet it turned out that Cassidy hadn’t been as honest with his fans as it had first appeared. In fact, a year after the singer’s death, pay TV network A&E screened a documentary about the star called David Cassidy: The Last Session. And it featured a shocking voice recording in which the star admitted that that all the talk of dementia had simply been a cover-up for the real illness he had been battling.
In a phone call made to Saralena Weinfield, a producer at A&E, Cassidy revealed that he hadn’t had dementia at all. And in fact, the concerning behavior he’d displayed had been as a result of his drinking. It seemed that Cassidy had decided to come clean after being taken to hospital for falling ill while recording.
Cassidy told Weinfield, “The first few days I was unconscious and near death. The last week or so my memory has come back. That’s such a blessing. That means I’m cognizant of my surroundings. That I’m alive, and it’s daytime, and I know what day of the week it is.”
“There is no sign of me having dementia at this stage of my life,” Cassidy continued in a voice which was audibly trembling. “It was completely alcohol poisoning. The fact is that I lied about my drinking. I did this to myself to cover up the sadness and the emptiness.”
Yet although Cassidy’s confession was a shock to many, his one-time co-star Danny Bonaduce told Global News that he wasn’t particularly surprised. The Partridge Family actor said, “Part of alcoholism is lying. When you’re an addict, you know you can’t be honest with people. You say what you want them to hear. I can’t be mad at David for that, but it’s still a tragedy.”
Cassidy was fully aware that his telephone conversations were being recorded by Weinfield for the documentary too. The supervising producer told The New York Post, “It was a way for us to get to know each other and to prepare for filming. I asked him if I could start recording the calls, and I had a lot of calls with him over the course of working with him.”
“The audience is really hearing what I was hearing,” Weinfield continued. “That was my first phone call with David [after he was hospitalized], and it was for me to check up on him and see how he was doing. I was surprised he wanted to go there and talk so openly about it.”
Weinfield also admitted that she had been taken aback to hear Cassidy’s confession, as the subject of his alcoholism hadn’t previously come up while filming. She added, “We knew his history, of course. I think David was… taking stock of his life, and this is what he wanted to put out there about his life.”
Of course, following Cassidy’s death shortly after the phone confession, A&E debated whether to go ahead with the documentary. Weinfield told The New York Post, “We really had to take stock. Ultimately, David wanted this to be a three-dimensional portrait of him — he kept talking about that — and we felt that almost as a way of honoring his passing we had to move forward and show him in a complex light.”
“I hope people see him as the complete figure he was,” Weinfield added. “We grew to like him so much and had so much respect for him, as a person and as an artist.” Weinfield also claimed that there was more to the documentary in question than Cassidy’s lie and ultimately tragic demise.
Weinfield told The New York Post, “It’s really about a man who wanted to be taken seriously as an artist, the nature of celebrity and the relationship between a father and son. We really set out to make a complex, nuanced portrait [of David] and to show him in a way he wanted to be known.” So although The Last Session doesn’t shy away from Cassidy’s issues with speech and memory, it also celebrates Cassidy’s life in full.
There’s even footage taken from the height of Cassidymania, including images of a plethora of fainting and screaming girls. The documentary also features a revealing set of interviews from 1976 in which the singer discusses his frustrations at being dismissed as merely a teen idol. Cassidy talks candidly about his turbulent relationship with his father, Jack, as well.
David Cassidy: The Last Session’s producer John Marks backed up Weinfield’s claims that the show was in no way exploitative. He said, “I think it will strike a chord with people. [Cassidy] wanted to share this very private part of his life and to be honest, once and for all. And I think he succeeded in doing that.”
So the producers of David Cassidy: The Last Session may have believed that they were doing the right thing by screening the documentary. However, Cassidy’s nearest and dearest certainly weren’t on board. In a statement released to news organization Reuters, son Beau said, “We, the Cassidy family, were not affiliated with the A&E documentary. All we are interested in is maintaining the legacy of the icon he was.”