David Cassidy on the Web
The dark side of a teen idol
23rd February 2007
By DAVID CASSIDY
Cassidy in his younger days
David Cassidy's wholesome image won obsessive devotion from his teenage fans. In this brutally frank autobiography, he reveals the secret life of drug abuse and reckless sex that drove him to breakdown:
Do you want to know my most vivid childhood memory? It's early 1956. I'm five, nearly six, and I'm playing with a couple of my friends out in the street in front of our house in West Orange, New Jersey. They begin to taunt me with that casual cruelty kids can have. 'Hey Wartie, your parents are divorced.'
The other boys call me Wartie because my grandparents' last name is Ward and my mother and I are living with them so she can leave me there when she goes on the road, performing.
'No, they aren't divorced,' I respond, unnerved. I have never heard the word 'divorce' before, but somehow I know what it means. 'Maybe in a play they are...but not in real life.'
My parents, Jack Cassidy and Evelyn Ward, are actors. They both spend a lot of time touring in plays and musicals, sometimes together, usually apart.
'They're divorced,' one of my friends assures me again, as if it's a well-known fact.
But nobody I know has parents who are divorced. That just doesn't exist in my world. I suddenly feel very uneasy. I run into the house for assurance.
Even though I'm sure my mother will say: 'Don't be silly,' I ask her hesitantly if she and my dad are divorced. She takes a long breath and says: 'Why don't you ask your father that? You're going to see him next weekend.'
And that's enough for me to feel whole again...at least until I see my dad. I haven't seen a lot of him lately. Those plays seem to keep him very busy - so busy, in fact, that even when he promises he's going to come and visit me, he isn't always able to keep his promise.
I am used to that, though. After all, this is Jack Cassidy we're talking about. The most charismatic man I've ever met, and also the most unreliable.
I remember waiting for him to appear that next weekend. He drove up to the house in grand style in a shiny new Cadillac. That was so Jack.
Even when he didn't have much money, he'd always look the part. My mother used to say: 'If he had $50, he'd spend $40 on a suit for himself and leave $10 for us to live on.'
When he arrived, I remember him bundling me into a bulky overcoat - it was winter - and saying exuberantly, with a wave of his hand: 'We're off to New York!'
He could make it sound as if he had just invented New York and was about to make a present of it to you. He had so much charm you couldn't help but love him.
The first time he'd taken me on a trip like this was when I was just three and a half and he was starring in a Broadway show called Wish You Were Here. I remember him in the back of a taxi, saying: 'You have to be quiet during the show.'
But when I saw him come out on stage I got excited and shouted: 'That's my daddy!' I knew when I saw him standing on the stage, with his arms spread out, singing, and everybody clapping for him, that I wanted to be just like him.
As I grew older, maybe a part of me even believed that if I became a performer like he was, it would bring us the closeness we never had. A closeness that might wipe out what had happened as he drove me into New York City that winter's day when I was five. 'Are you and Mum divorced?' I knew he would say 'No' and then everything would be exactly the way it was before my friends started taunting me. But instead, he paused, drew his breath, and said: 'Yes.'
When I heard him say that, and learned that they had been divorced for more than two years, I could hardly keep myself together. It felt like every part of my body came unglued at once. I began to shake and convulse out of pain, fear and rejection.
I was stunned that he had decided to leave me and my mother - and even more stunned that he hadn't even bothered to tell me. Finding out that I'd been deceived by my own parents left me so devastated that I've never completely recovered.
From that day, I've had problems trusting people, problems with rejection, problems with finding lasting, loving relationships. During my teenage years and my time as a star, I led a lifestyle that would have shocked my fans and was a world away from my innocent, unthreatening image.
My relationship with my father was at the heart of all this. It took me years to rid myself of the darkness and pain I felt as the result of his selfishness - yet for all his flaws, I worshipped him. As a child, I always wanted to be like him.
I realise now that he was damaged goods. According to family lore, when his mother bore him at the age of 48, she was embarrassed by this unwanted change-of-life child - as if she believed a woman of her age shouldn't be having sex any more, much less children.
She handed him over to a woman a few houses away, who nursed and looked after him. He once told me he couldn't remember his mother ever kissing him. I'm sure that the various psychological problems he had, including an insatiable need for attention, had their origins right there.
He was narcissistic, grandiose and wildly self-indulgent. I once found he had 104 pairs of shoes in his cupboard. He was also a philanderer and an alcoholic.
When I was little, I remember him taking me to a restaurant and downing 17 scotch and sodas. He was tormented by not being recognised as an acting genius and when I eventually became a star he was incredibly competitive.
He resented my success and would say things like: 'You're just lucky.' Every kid wants his father to put his arm around him and say: 'Great going, son.' But I never got that. I think reality was so painful for my father that he preferred to create his own.
He would look at a white wall and tell you that it was black and you'd have to say: 'OK, you're right, Dad.' If you didn't, he would go insane, totally out of control, throwing tantrums and breaking furniture.
Later in life he would be diagnosed as manic depressive, and shortly before his death in 1976 he was briefly committed to a mental hospital.
When his business manager hired a small plane to fly him home, he tried to grab the controls from the pilot, screaming: 'I'm going to see my father.' He had to be wrestled away and strapped back in his seat.
The next day he was sighted watering the lawn in the middle of the afternoon stark naked, sharing himself with his supposedly admiring public.
Later his manager found him standing atop a coffee table, pounding on a Bible, saying: 'J.C. - don't you get it? Jack Cassidy, Jesus Christ. They're both J.C. Don't you see? I'm me, J.C.'
After his death, I also learned that he had been bisexual and had an extended affair with the songwriter Cole Porter. Nothing I heard about my father ever surprised me. He was a larger than life kind of guy.
Not long after I found out he'd left my mother, he married the actress Shirley Jones, who had starred in the film musicals Oklahoma! and Carousel and would later win an Oscar. When they moved to California in 1957 and started their own family, I saw even less of my dad.
I felt shunned, as if I'd done something wrong. I was a very sensitive child, scrawny and young-looking for my age, and other kids would laugh at me because I had deformed eye muscles that gave me a squint.
Eventually, I had an operation to fix it, but until then older boys were very physically abusive to me. I also had a learning disability that was never diagnosed and I struggled at school, always feeling different from my classmates.
My mother was great but she was a lax disciplinarian. I was full of anger towards my dad and grew increasingly wild and undisciplined. In 1961, worried that I was becoming a juvenile delinquent, Mum decided we should move to Los Angeles so that I could have more contact with my father.
Soon after we moved, she married Elliot Silverstein, a television director. He was incredibly good to me and tried hard to fill the void left by my dad, but it can't have been easy. By now, I had decided that school had nothing to offer me and that my interests lay in sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
I grew my hair long, dyed it blond, and started playing the guitar in bands with various friends. I began smoking cigarettes at 13 and had my first joint at 15. An older guy showed me how to do it - inhaling really deeply and holding it in. I got absolutely hammered.
Over the next few years I was to discover I was deeply sensitive to almost any kind of drug. I found myself experimenting with LSD, cocaine, heroin, mescaline, speed, THC, barbiturates and more.
When I was 16 and 17, I'd take speed once every couple of weeks and sometimes go on a binge for two or three days. Now that I have my own kids I shudder to think about what I got up to, but in those days I had an appetite for living on the edge.
One night, a friend and I broke into the local hospital and stole a big metal tank of nitrous oxide - laughing gas. We got high on that for a week, then we went back to the hospital, returned the empty tank from the room we'd taken it from and liberated another tank to party with.
And that wasn't all I got up to. Like most teenagers, I had raging hormones. I reached puberty early, at around 11 or 12, and I had an incredible appetite for sex. Sex, glorious sex. It was all I could think about.
Perhaps because of my physical appearance - my build was slight, my features were delicate, my hair was long and my manner was soft-spoken and gentle - there were some other kids who assumed I was homosexual. In fact, I was incredibly active with girls.
'I lost my virginity at 13'
My earliest experience was when I was nine and fumbled with a friend's older sister. By the time I was 12 I was making out with 15-year-olds, and I lost my virginity at 13.
It happened with a girl who lived down the street from a friend of mine and was a year or two older than us. One night, six of us went to see her. We crept up to a loft above her garage and asked her to take her clothes off - and she did.
I was in awe, but I didn't want to do anything more in front of everybody else. So I called her up one weekend and asked to see her by myself and that was the first time I ever had sex.
Once I started, I had a new girlfriend every month or two. I thought: 'Well, parents - adults - don't stay together. Why should we?'
We smoked pot, got high and went to drive-in movies because they were the one place you could get away from your parents and have sex. Back then, for teenagers, drive-in cinemas were like brothels. Eventually, I told my mother: 'Look, I'd like to bring a girl over. Would you mind? I'd like to take her up to my room.'
'OK, you can bring girls to your room, but I don't want you having intercourse,' she said.
'Oh, we would never do that,' I assured her. Well, of course, the girl and I would be going at it within five minutes of closing the door. I'm sure my mother knew what was going on, but this was the Sixties.
There wasn't much time left for studying, and I was kicked out of two schools for skipping classes. Although my stepfather had fantasies of me going to university, I knew I wasn't heading in that direction. I wanted to be a performer like my dad.
With the help of his agent, Ruth Aarons, I landed roles in a number of TV series, including Marcus Welby, M.D. and Bonanza. My acting was lame on the first couple of shows but it soon improved.
By mid-1970, I was still only one of a thousand faces on the small screen but I could take pride - and hoped my dad could also take pride - in the fact that I was becoming, like him, a reliable working actor.
I wanted to concentrate on serious drama so I wasn't too interested when Ruth Aarons suggested I should audition for a new situation comedy called The Partridge Family.
Extracted from COULD IT BE FOREVER? by David Cassidy, published by Headline on March 8 at £20. David Cassidy 2007. To order a copy for £18 (p&p free), call 0870 161 0870.