Born into an acting family, David Cassidy’s destiny to follow in his dad Jack’s celebrated acting and singing footsteps was probably inevitable. What could not have been foreseen was the storm of teenage passion that was to elevate the young star into a 1970s’ scream idol.
The path to teenage adulation started when David was cast, at the age of 19, in the hit TV series The Partridge Family.
He had turned to acting straight out of school and had bit parts on Broadway and appearances in American TV shows like Marcus Welby, MD and Ironside. But it was the wholesome role of Keith Partridge that was to catapult him into a maelstrom of teenage hormones and eventually lead to him withdrawing from the music world.
Dad, Jack Cassidy, had divorced David’s mum, Broadway actress Evelyn Ward, and married Oklahoma and Carousel musical star Shirley Jones. By 1970 David’s step-mum had been signed up to play the widowed Shirley Partridge who heads a family rock band touring the States in their block-coloured bus. David played the cute front-man with a love interest in nearly every episode. The Partridge Family was an immediate hit with teenage girls both sides of the Atlantic clamouring for a piece of the handsome heart-throb.
Albums followed and soon chart success beckoned for the fictional family, with their first hit, I Think I Love You, selling over five million copies. David sang lead vocals and together with his step-mum they were the only two of the fictional group to actually sing on the albums.
Now David was performing on screen by day and working at weekends doing solo concerts to screaming teenage girls who plastered their bedroom walls with his posters and bought anything with his face advertising their products. He had become one of the most screamed-at stars since Elvis and the gold discs rolled in while he lived a life often hidden under a blanket.
Girls didn’t just want to kiss his posters goodnight, they also wanted a piece of the superstar if they could get close enough to the real thing.
When The Partridge Family was shown in the UK a fresh teenybopper storm was unleashed and the demands to see him perform in the flesh grew. His fan club was bigger than that of Elvis and between 1972 and 1974 he notched up seven UK top 20 hits, including the number one Daydreamer. Sandwiched between The Osmonds heyday and the rise of the Bay City Rollers his success seemed unassailable but in 1974 while touring Britain he announced he was to stop performing and that his concerts in Glasgow, White City and Manchester would be his last.
The star told reporters he was ‘burnt up inside’ and that at just 24 years old he was ‘in a position millions dream of but the truth is I just can’t enjoy it’.
His arrival in the UK provoked a sensation with hordes of hysterical fans waiting at the airport for their idol and then besieging his hotels just for a glimpse of the star being jostled into a blacked-out limousine. They sobbed and screamed whenever he appeared but tragedy struck during the 1974 tour of Britain.
The evening performance at London’s White City Stadium on May 26 was to prove a disaster with a surging crowd of teenyboppers pushing forward to see their dream idol. A vast 35,000 capacity sports arena, originally built to house the 1908 London Olympics, was the venue. From early afternoon the stadium had been under siege. Girls queued around the building waiting to be allowed inside while those who had no tickets waited in hope.
Inside it was wall-to-wall screaming amid a sea of satin scarves and raised banners proclaiming David devotion forever. But the frenzied clamour reached new heights as David appeared on stage. A surge towards the stage from the crowd resulted in up to 1,000 fans needing medical attention. One 14-year-old girl died a few days later in hospital as a result of the crush.
The concert was stopped but later resumed with David having no idea of the magnitude of the incident. White City was never again used for a major concert and was demolished in the mid 1980s.
David was left shaken and now retreated from his overwhelming fame and popularity while he was still at the top. The final blow for his adoring young fans came when he married actress Kay Lenz in 1977 and retired from showbusiness to live in Hawaii.
He later admitted he was plagued by insomnia and haunted by the tensions of his former stardom. David later said being a teen idol had been a ‘living hell’. He revealed ‘I had become a freak attraction to the kids. My world was a hideous fantasy’.
And while his song asked Could It Be Forever? the answer was a rather sad no.
Words: Christine Curtis
Find out more about other stars from your childhood in the latest copy of Yours Retro