March 5, 1927 – Jack Cassidy:
“The rewards of comedy are instant. I have no desire to look out into an audience to see if there are any tears.”
In Shirley Jones: A Memoir (2013), Academy Award-winner Shirley Jones reveals that her first husband, Jack Cassidy, once talked her into having a three-way and claims that he taught her everything about sex.
“I was a virgin when I married Jack… He was very sexual and very upfront about it. He even told me he had affairs with men; that was the first thing he said. He told me about having an affair with Cole Porter. He just taught me new situations that I thought might be interesting, why not try it… It’s not gonna kill me.”
Among his many male affairs was hot gay actor/writer Tom Tryon.
Jones and Cassidy divorced in 1974 after 18 years of marriage. Cassidy was the father, from a previous marriage, of David Cassidy, the actor, singer/songwriter known for his role as Keith Partridge, the son of Shirley Partridge (played by his stepmother Jones), in the 1970s musical-sitcom The Partridge Family, becoming one of popular culture’s teen idols and superstar pop singers of the 1970s.
A star of stage and television for over two decades, Jack Cassidy embodied the vainglorious, self-absorbed side of his profession in a series of Tony Award-winning and Emmy Award-nominated roles that made him a much-loved performer. I had a big crush on him as a youth. His rich voice and good looks made him a popular leading man on Broadway in the late 1940s and early 1950s, where he met his first wife, dancer Evelyn Ward.
While appearing in a touring production of Oklahoma!, Cassidy met Jones, who became his second wife and mother to sons, actors Shaun, Ryan and Patrick Cassidy.
Cassidy received that Emmy nomination for his work on the critically acclaimed He & She (1967-68) playing a supremely self-confident actor of a fictional television series who made life miserable for Richard Benjamin, who had created the cartoon on which the program was based, and his wife, played by Benjamin’s real-life spouse, Paula Prentiss. This show was delicious and dry and way ahead of its time. His performance brought him even better roles on television, but his personal problems, including alcoholism and mental illness, took a toll on his career by the mid-1970s.
Born in Queens, Cassidy was one of five children born to immigrants from Ireland. Like many children of the Great Depression, Cassidy started working in a variety of menial labor jobs as a kid to help support his large family, but he loved going to the theatre.
Cassidy had made his Broadway debut in the chorus of the aptly named Cole Porter musical Something For The Boys (1943). He found work in supporting roles doing summer stock and tours before making his debut as a leading man in the Tony-winning musical Wish You Were Here (1953), appearing in a swimsuit in a real pool on stage. With his matinee idol looks and a rich singing voice, he was a leading man of choice for high-profile musicals, including a 1955 State Department European tour of Oklahoma! opposite Jones. Cassidy asked Jones to marry him between acts of a 1956 production of The Beggar’s Opera.
Cassidy’s demeanor made him perfect for playing urbane, larger-than-life characters with inflated egos, winning a Tony Award for just such a character in one of my favorite musicals She Loves Me (1963), with other Tony noms for similar roles in Fade Out/Fade In (1964) with Carol Burnett; as a jealous columnist with the hots for Lois Lane in It’s A Bird. It’s A Plane. It’s Superman (1966) and as a roguish Irish actor (what a stretch) opposite Jones in Maggie Flynn (1969), which won him his second Tony.
A second Emmy nomination came for a dramatic role in George C. Scott‘s adaptation of The Andersonville Trial (1971). He also appeared in films, including The Eiger Sanction (1975), as the main villain opposite Clint Eastwood, and W.C. And Me (1976), in which he played John Barrymore, another highly theatrical stage performer. During this period, he also played leading roles on series television, including several Columbo (1968-1978) episodes, matching wits with Peter Falk‘s rumpled, shrewd detective. He also had a successful nightclub act.
But all that time Cassidy was an alcoholic who displayed increasingly odd behavior in public. In a 1974 incident, neighbors discovered him watering his front lawn while naked. A similar incident, in which Jones claimed that Cassidy had proclaimed himself Jesus Christ, led to a stay in a psychiatric hospital and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Jones filed for divorce that same year, devastating Cassidy. During this period, Cassidy’s sons, David and Shaun, were at their zenith as pop stars and performers on The Partridge Family (1970-74) and The Hardy Boys Mysteries (1977-79), while Cassidy’s career crashed.
In December of 1976, Cassidy went out alone to some gay bars in West Hollywood that he frequented. When he arrived home, he was too drunk to make it to is bedroom and he just landed on his living room sofa where he fell asleep while smoking. His penthouse in Hollywood went up in flames and he was burnt beyond recognition. The police didn’t find his car in the garage, yet it was quietly returned the following day by a male friend of Cassidy’s. The L.A. County Sheriff’s office was unable to link this mysterious man to Cassidy’s death. It was his dental records and a ring that confirmed his death. He was cremated and had his ashes scattered into the Pacific Ocean. He left none of his estate to his sons or his ex-wives.
The song I Think I Love You was released as the debut single by The Partridge Family pop group, featuring David Cassidy on lead vocals and Jones on background vocals. It was a Number One hit for five weeks at the end of 1970. They were nominated for a Grammy in 1971 for Best New Artist.
David Cassidy married three times, and his two kids went into showbiz. His marriages failed because of his drinking and abuse of prescription drugs for his depression. He was arrested three times for driving under the influence, and again for leaving the scene of an accident. Cassidy was sentenced to two years of probation and his license was suspended for five years.
With his last arrest in Los Angeles, the Highway Patrol officer found an empty bottle of booze and pain pills under the passenger seat. Due to his legal and health issues, he declared bankruptcy. He was over $10 million in debt. In 2008, Cassidy publicly admitted he had an alcohol problem, and in 2017, following a performance in which he had difficulty remembering the lyrics of songs he had been performing for nearly 50 years and fell off the stage, he announced that he was living with dementia and would retire.
His suffering from dementia worsened his organ functions; his kidneys stopped and he was in need of a liver transplant but it was all too late. Cassidy left this world in November 2017, taken by organ failure. Like his father, he left no money to his ex-wives or children.
David Cassidy wrote two memoirs: C’mon, Get Happy (1994) and Could It Be Forever? My Story (2014), where he is candid about his personal life.
Patrick Cassidy appears regularly on stage. He appeared in Longtime Companion (1989) portraying an actor who contracts AIDS. Shaun Cassidy was one of the biggest pop stars of the late-1970s, with hit records and sold out concerts. In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked almost exclusively in the theater, performing on Broadway and in the West End. Cassidy now has a successful career as a writer and producer in television.
Their father was gone at 47-years-old. Jones remembers:
He made fun of himself, the business he was in and just about everything else.
Jones writes in her memoir that her stepson David was definitely his father’s son and that the Cassidy men were especially well-endowed.
Jack Cassidy was a leading man of great charisma, with a dashing grin who performed with panache and style. His was a life cut short, yet it is a life that deserves to be celebrated.