May 16, 2021

David Cassidy

The oldest of a show biz family (his brothers are Shaun, Patrick, and Ryan), David Cassidy got his start on The Partridge Family (1970-74), about a family of pop singers who tour the country in a psychedelic bus (Danny Bonaduce played his younger brother). It aired on Friday nights in a block of gay teen "Must See TV," including The Brady Bunch, Room 222, and The Odd Couple.

His character, Keith Partridge, was interested in girls, but never portrayed as a absurdly girl-crazy, like most teenagers on prime-time in the 1970s. And, although pop superstars were presumably dream dates for every girl on earth, Keith frequently encountered girls who disliked pop music, who had never heard of his group, or who simply did not find him attractive. This self-deferential parody, a teen idol who can’t get a date, destabilized the myth of universal heterosexual desire; if some girls are not attracted to Keith, perhaps some boys are.

In “Days of Acne and Roses” (November 1971), Keith teaches a shy delivery boy named Wendell (Jay Ripley) how to date girls. He demonstrates the “yawn, stretch, and arm around” maneuver on Wendell, and then pretends to be a girl so that Wendell can practice his pick-up lines. Keith is remarkably unself-conscious about the physical contact and the mock flirtation, and he is not the least worried about someone overhearing and thinking that he is gay. When most of his fellow television teens recoiled in heart-pounding terror at a buddy’s touch, Keith’s nonchalance seems aggressively gay-friendly.

The teen magazines went wild with shirtless, swimsuit, and towel-shots, revealing David's slim, androgynous body, but in this case they were justified in praising his talent: his music was good.

And gay-friendly.  Songs credited to The Partridge Family (studio musicians except for David and his mother, Shirley Jones) almost entirely eliminated the incessant “girl!” that deadened most bubblegum pop lyrics in the 1970s. In the emblematic “I Think I Love You,” David awakens to the disturbing realization that he is in love:

I just decided to myself, I'd hide it from myself
And never talk about it, and [so I] didn't go and shout it
When you walked in to the room.

Why does he “never talk about it”? Heterosexual teenagers in love do nothing but talk about it. In 1971 I concluded that there must be something more to “a love there is no cure for,” perhaps a love that dares not speak its name.

David’s solo numbers also eliminate almost all gender-specific pronoun or refrainsof “girl!”  For instance in“Where is the Morning,” he laments a failed hookup that could be with either a boy or a girl:

I can’t sleep tonight. I found someone.
You smiled at me and said you were free. And I was alone.
Would you meet me again? 

My friend Derek claimed to have dated him, but David doesn't mention any same-sex relationships in his memoirs, C’mon, Get Happy (1994).

He does graciously acknowledges his appeal to gay boys: “I had a pretty strong gay following. I kind of liked it. Gay publications ran pictures of me; I was named gay pinup of the year by one. I’d get fan letters from gay guys saying things like ‘I can tell by the look in your eyes that you’re one of us.’”

And in a sense, he was “one of us,” an ally, demonstrating that same-sex desire was not only possible, but valid and worthwhile.

David spent most of his later career in Las Vegas, where he wrote songs and performed for audiences of both men and women.  He died in 2017

See also: Derek and the Pop Star.


  1. Unfortunately, David Cassidy is no longer performing, due to severe memory loss (he would often forget his song lyrics in the middle of a performance). A very sad end to a wonderful career.

    1. And today he has died. It makes me very sad for many reasons. I remember hearing the song "I Think I Love You" for the first time when I was 10, Nick at Nite got the rights to THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (I watched that occasionally although I liked THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW much better) and hearing the lyrics "I'm afraid that I'm not sure of/a love there is no cure for" with nothing to make it specifically boy/girl. I barely knew what homosexuality was, much less the idea that I could ever be gay, but my mother was one of those teenage girls who had a crush on him, and the older I got and the more I realized I like men, the more I could see what she saw in him, and what "a love there is no cure for" really meant. And although he wasn't gay himself, his father, Jack Cassidy, was bisexual and died in a fire in an apartment in West Hollywood. But he made it okay for men to have long hair, and although he was marketed as being "safe" to 12-year-old girls, he was still dangerous because he radiated genuine adult sex appeal.

      The fact that he died of dementia when two people on both sides of my family are struggling with it right now makes me sad and scared for my own long-term physical and mental well-being.

    2. He was bi, with primarily romantic interest in girls. There's a gay dating story on "Tales of West Hollywood"

    3. I was born in the 80s, but I knew him from Nick at Nite. (Another odd trope of mine, I grew up in Middle America, which is always a time warp, so I have memories of fads going back to the 50s, but no memory of Martin Luther King, the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, Watergate, Vietnam, or the Challenger. And the fads sort of run together, so 80s/90s stuff is right alongside 50s stuff. Nick at Nite only exacerbates this.) I also knew The Brady Bunch from TBS.

      Yeah, I wish more pop stars could sing about more than "girl, baby, I want you, I need you". David Cassidy was truly one of a kind.

    4. I came into adolescence almost similtaneously with the premiere of the Partridge Family which, because of the Cowsills, seemed to catch quite a bit of interest of the viewing public (my ultra-convervative parents eagerly watched the first episode). I had been "crushing" on several beautiful guys in my school---especially Antony V---, who, although ostensibly straight, did the then unthinkable by sliding his shoes off and gliding around and between classrooms in the softness of dark blue socks (which became, for me, a metonomy of homoerotic desire)---and David took his place among that pantheon of Desirables. Such emotions and desires were, in that time and place, considered almost as subversive as criticizing the American presence in Viet Nam. The only person I could share these desires with was my best friend from kindergarten, who lived five doors sourth on our dead end street; and we often spent some delightfully surreptitious moments discussing what it would be like to date David, to be alone with him, and, ultimately, to be naked with him. Until, the following summer, instinct and our innate natures took over and we discovered that the one thing more delightful than imagining David's romantic presence, was touching each other.

  2. Needs an edit to recognize his death?

  3. Sorry, that's what happens when I change the date on an old post without reading the whole thing.

  4. I always thought "I Think" was about a man. "A love there is no cure for" and how many psychoanalysts tried to find a cure? I assume the last psychoanalyst to get it right that no cure is possible or even desired was Freud himself.

    The 80s and the rise of the yuppie gay saw an interesting switch to internalized psychoanalysis.

  5. He'd never admit to it during his lifetime, publicly at least, due to his image. His fans also have issues possibly seeing him as anything other than a womanizer as almost all of his known flings and relationships were with women. I'm one of his younger fans, but even I could tell that he nor Keith were completely straight. His one-who-got-away also ended up being a lesbian (Meredith Baxter). Funny how things work.

  6. Born in 1959 I was about a year older than Brian Forster (Chris Partridge) who I fell in love with. David Cassidy seemed old to me and Danny was ugly and always into him self. I regret the show didn't have more speaking parts for Chris who was so cute.


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