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David Cassidy revisits his past in TV biopic

Thursday, January 06, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

As a young David Cassidy, actor Andrew Kavovit has the bangs and feathered brown shag. He has the puka shell necklace. He has that Keith Partridge habit of raising and dipping his shoulder like a vocal drawbridge when he sings.

But Kavovit's shoulders are wider, and he has well-defined triceps and biceps visible beneath those clingy, synthetic shirts of the '70s. "I thought Andy made me look good," quips Cassidy, who will turn 50 in April. "I only wish David Cassidy could have a body like that."

Kavovit, who won an Emmy in 1990 for "As the World Turns," plays the title role in "The David Cassidy Story," airing Sunday at 9 p.m. on NBC.

David Cassidy, left, is portrayed by Andrew Kavovit in "The David Cassidy Story," airing Sunday night on NBC. (Jill Connelly, Associated Press) 

"We didn't go for physicality; we didn't try to cast a look-alike," says Cassidy, who is one of the executive producers. "Andy just happens to look a little bit like me. He looks, to me, sometimes more like my brother Shaun," Cassidy says.

The two-hour movie also stars Malcolm McDowell as David's father, the talented but ego-driven actor Jack Cassidy, who died in an accidental fire in December 1976. NBC wanted David to play his father, but he thought that would be confusing to viewers and look like a cheap trick. (And, frankly, David Cassidy may still be too boyish to pull it off.)

"I really believe that Malcolm was absolutely the right guy. He's such a big personality, and as an actor he's so talented and so versatile that he has a lot of the tools my father had.

"His performance is stunning. I'm really proud of both Andy and him and all of the people," including Dey Young as Shirley Jones, David's stepmother. "I honestly think it depicts the sadness, the irony of it all," and that viewers will be able to relate to a father-son struggle that just happens to be set against a show-business backdrop.

"The David Cassidy Story" follows the singer from his days as an 18-year-old in Los Angeles to his eventual rebirth as husband, father and Broadway star. In between came teen idol status and a period of unemployment, disillusionment, divorce and loss.

Today, Cassidy lives in Las Vegas with his wife, Sue Shifrin, and their 8-year-old son, Beau, who attends public school and plays Little League baseball. Cassidy is preparing for the debut of a new Vegas show, which he hopes will eventually move to New York, called "At the Copa" and co-starring Sheena Easton.

"The David Cassidy Story," as the title suggests, is about the performer, and the '70s sitcom "The Partridge Family" is only part of it. In fact, there's not a single shot of that groovy Partridge Family bus, which was everywhere in "Come On Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story," the campy ABC November movie focusing on flame-haired Danny Bonaduce.

Cassidy didn't see his fellow star's biopic. "I made no effort to watch it. In fact, had it been on, I would have made an effort not to see it, because it would have tainted my own feelings about all of those people, about that network and about my own experiences."

David's brother Shaun did see it, and pronounced it "incredibly bad and embarrassing." Admittedly speaking through the golden prism of time, Cassidy has only nice things to say about his co-stars, from Bonaduce to Susan Dey, whose early crush on an oblivious Cassidy is documented in both TV movies. In fact, there was no shortage of girls swooning over the teen pin-up, who was 24 by the time the series ended.

Talking about the show, which lasted four seasons on ABC, Cassidy says, "I have never not been proud of my association with it, or the fact I became so successful from it, toured all over the world and played the biggest stadiums and arenas and had the largest fan club in history.

"But I knew that continually perpetuating that was making me more and more unhappy. I used the people on the set of 'The Partridge Family' as my family; that was where I felt relief. Everywhere else, as soon as I drove through those [studio] gates, there were people following me home, it was madness about me.

"My world just shrank. It was very difficult. I'm not complaining about it, I'm just telling you the mere fact that when you have to ride around in the trunk of a Toyota to get in and out of a building, and you can't go to a grocery store and all of the simple things you take for granted. ... It's not a happy place to be, and it's not a normal way of living."

David decoys would be ushered out of arenas in limos, while Cassidy was hustled into vans or cars. Luxury hotels spurned him as a guest, for fear fans would riot. So Cassidy was consigned to low-rent places you would not associate with a superstar.

It's been 25 years since the Partridge brood was last seen in new episodes on TV, so what's the impetus for a pair of movies? Apparently a VH-1 special reignited the flame and ABC, in an apparent effort to beat NBC at its own game, pulled the Bonaduce project off the shelf where it had been languishing for three years.

"It's a fascinating -- if I can remove myself from it -- it's a kind of fascinating story, if you didn't have to live it. And even fascinating if you did have to live it, if you come out the other side of it."

Even adult women who devoured such teen mag stories as "David -- Alone in the Dark With Him!" (16 Magazine, December 1976) or "I Feel Only Half Alive" (Fave! magazine, September 1972) may be surprised by some of the twists and turns of Cassidy's life:

A girl collapsed during a Cassidy concert in London in 1974 and later died. His business manager absconded with millions of dollars. His father died in a fire, and his manager passed away, also. At one point, Cassidy was sleeping on the couch of his best friend and sheepishly arrived for an audition for a 1980s TV series, but never even got a chance to read for the part.

And while Cassidy still appreciates some of those old pop tunes, including "I Think I Love You," they were never his idea of rock 'n' roll. He counted Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Cream, Jeff Beck and B.B. King among his musical influences.

When Cassidy auditioned for "Partridge Family," he played some rock riffs and licks. So when he heard the exceedingly sweet music for the show, he said, "You're kidding. This music has nothing to do with rock music or pop music or being in a band."

But the series was targeted at a young audience, and the music sold millions of records -- and kept Cassidy in the recording studio for hours each night after the other cast members headed home. After all, the show owned him and his image, plastered on everything from lunch boxes to beach towels, and all for the princely sum of $600 a week in the early years. His manager eventually forced a renegotiation of his contract.

Cassidy may be willing to re-create that era for the TV movie, but don't look for him to do a reunion show. "I just don't want to mess with what it is. I think any time you do that, after a minute and a half or two minutes, you got people looking at you going, 'Gee, he doesn't look as good as he did 25 years ago.' "

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