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What can teen idol David Cassidy learn from third drunken driving arrest?

On Sun., Jan. 12, 2014, CNN distributed an unattractive mug shot of celebrity and singer David Cassidy, following his arrest in Los Angeles “after being stopped for an illegal turn on Jan. 10.” This was only the latest arrest for the troubled singer, who’d racked up two prior arrests for drunken driving in just three years’ time.

David Cassidy, back when things were good.
Rick Diamond, Getty Images and Neilson Barnard, Getty Images
David Cassidy, back when things were good.
Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA

Sadly, Cassidy first was arrested in Florida in November 2010, “and entered a no contest plea (in February 2011) as a first-time offender.” CNN noted that the offense carried a “year’s probation and a six-month suspension of his license, a $500 fine, attendance at a DUI school, and 50 hours of community service.” That, and the fact that his mug shot was spread across social media and the embarrassment he caused himself and his family should have been a sufficient deterrent to at least consider choosing a different path.

In the past several years, Cassidy has toured in classic rock shows and been paired with other prestigious singers in a “Teen Idols” tour that has included other popular 60s rock stars whose faces were plastered across the walls of teenage girls for a decade (or more). Further, he was just beginning to book a tour “David Cassidy presents The World’s Greatest Teen Idols” featuring himself, singer Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees.

The fact that Cassidy himself was to be partial presenter of the event showed his interest in trying to bring the music from the best days of Baby Boomers’ lives to the now-grown teenagers who still flock to festivals and fill concert halls to hear songs that undoubtedly the teen idols might be frustrated to still be singing. Other grown teen idols, however, flourish and continue to grow their fan bases by doing just that very thing. It's just a matter of whether your heart is in what you do, or not. That's the acid test.

Cassidy’s individual concert schedule finds him in Iowa, Connecticut, Texas and Virginia in the coming months. It will be even tougher for him to have to come out and pretend “this didn’t happen” (again), but undoubtedly he will. Cassidy grew up as a show business kid who played the guitar and sang, the son of an actor who made his childhood less than idyllic, and immersed in a world where there’s little to no grounding of the “real world” as a backstop to know where to draw the line. Everyone caters to your every whim, and after a while it is easy to slip into the comfort zone of believing your own hype.

Cassidy is a quality singer and guitarist independent of all the million-selling bubblegum songs like ‘I Think I Love You,” by which he became known. He’s a solid actor, and has shown that for years in television shows outside of “The Partridge Family.”

Cassidy had a New Year’s message for fans on his website, posted Dec. 30, 2013, with words that ring poignant today:

Unfortunately this social media we deal with today tends to be very hysterical in its nature. As most of you know I have never gone to chat rooms or used the internet for my own entertainment. Having said that, I remain very happy, healthy, sober and optimistic about 2014 not just for me but for you all who have continued to support me and to support love and happiness in this world we live in. I will always believe that kindness, love and compassion will always rule out.

David’s parting words on the blog express optimism:

2014 will be, not hopefully will be, but will be the greatest year of our lives if we choose to make it so.
Words cannot possibly explain my love, appreciation and my truly humble care for your love and support for me. I still want to fill your lives with love, happiness and music. New music will be coming in 2015. I give you my word.
God bless you all and here’s to the best year of all – 2014.

Cassidy’s words reflect a struggle that he is acknowledging, albeit subtly, and he was doing well for almost two years, when in August 2013, he again “was arrested on a drunken driving charge in Schodack, New York, after failing to dim his headlights at a police checkpoint, and scoring a .10 blood alcohol level.” That was his second in now-three episodes of this behavior. And, it was only five months ago that the episode happened.

Fighting the battle of alcoholism is a personal one, but when you are making a living in the public eye, the battle escalates to an expanded level of awareness. Public sympathy can also wane for your success, when the offense is the third one in as many years. The most important issue, of course, is that whether or not the person is struggling with a battle is one thing, but the possibility of injuring others or the risking loss of life of that person or other innocent bystanders is another. What you do to yourself is one thing; when it could potentially harm others is another altogether.

Many, not all, celebrities are no different than regular people, with the exception of their need for validation and acceptance for the craft they put on display, for rejection or success, every day of their lives. If entertainers are not grounded in the real world, fortunate enough to be surrounded with as much true life and true friends as other noncelebrities have, then their ability to accept themselves and their achievements is skewed in large measure by “so what have you done for us lately?” It’s not an old battle and it’s not an isolated incident, particularly among those who are in a genre described generally as “teen idols.” Cassidy is now five decades removed from his days as a card-carrying teenager.

Another earlier-day teen idol, singer Rick Nelson, wrote an important song, “Garden Party,” that chronicled how he had hoped to present himself and his new, “grown-up” music to the same people who once loved him as a teenager, once again with his photo on so many walls of girls across America back in the day, as they say. No one gave a flying fig about his new music and loudly let the entertainer know of their disapproval. The innumerable number of times that happens to popular entertainers is overwhelming to consider.

Surely, it’s human nature to want to freeze-frame “idols” or the people you once saw when you were a teenager in that same place and time of talent and personal growth where you first “met them.” You want to hear them sing the hits “exactly the way you heard them on the radio.” You know every musical intro, every drum beat, every backup line, and you do not want to allow for any deviation from what you are expecting when the idols show back up in your life.

In a situation that Cassidy might do well to recall, Rick Nelson’s new music, similarly, was of little interest to his fan base. Ricky, now Rick, had to become one of the handsome faces on an episode of “The Love Boat,” a certain comedown in a medium that he once ruled, once a week, on “The Ozzie and Harriet Show,” and on concert stages that were permanently sold out and filled with screaming fans.

When you write the story of your life before you have lived it, the way David Cassidy has, twice now, it’s easy to think “it’s all over.” But really, it’s not or it wasn’t. In 1994, Cassidy penned (with Chip Deffaa) “C’mon, Get Happy: Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus” and released “Could It Be Forever?: My Story” some 15 years later, in 2009. Cassidy is only 63 years old and is only today qualified to really write a reflective biography that communicates anything of real value in the life he’s lived “so far.” Perhaps after time, reflection and true introspection, Cassidy may have more to say on the subject of “thus far” in his life.

His first book’s PR noted: “Throughout the first half of the 70s, David Cassidy of the Partridge Family was the highest-paid solo performer in the world—even bigger than Elvis, the Rolling Stones, or the Beatles.” Although that’s hype, that’s also emblematic hype of the constant need to compare, value, and matter in a genre that adults leave behind from their teen days. Sadly, young Cassidy’s early years of stardom were filled with episodes, people, and events that can be described collectively as “excessive.” The book was a look behind the safety of images and imaginations manufactured to have Cassidy appear as untroubled as his youthful face would indicate. Such was not the case.

Yet, one book was not enough. His second book, “Could It Be Forever?” had one additional point, in the add-on to his story thus far. Per the publisher’s note, “This story reveals how to keep on living and loving when the fickle fans fall away.” Having read the book several years ago, it would be appropriate to add that the book took on a resentful tone about how he had such a tough road to hoe in dealing with all the fame he had to deal with, too fast, against the pressure of trying to exceed his father’s then-established celebrity, and to be understood.

Five decades after Cassidy became a somebody after being a nobody, after singing the lyrics, “Doesn’t somebody want to be wanted like me, where are you?” after selling 20,000,000 albums, he apparently is still asking that same question.

David Cassidy is resilient, and he still finds reason to want to bring music that he made famous out to the people who still want to hear him. He may loathe the memories of the teenager he once was. Cassidy may be embarrassed at his third strike when it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol and having a less than flattering photo plastered over every square mile of social media when it could be a really nice, glossy photo of a still youthful looking troubadour who is still bringing music to people who want to hear it.

The odds are not against Cassidy being able to sober his life, and his lifestyle. It’s been done by hundreds of people for as many years. People can choose to break habits and they can find people to help them. It’s just a crying shame that it takes a wake-up call like this on a public arena to ask him to consider changing his path.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Ricky Nelson became Rick. His talent never left him. His fans never left him. But he’s not here anymore due to a fatal plane crash that claimed his life. David Cassidy is still here. Most people won’t give five minutes’ thought to David Cassidy’s arrest or know if it’s the first, second or third DUI. But there are likely several hundred thousand people who do care if he is able to straighten up his life and move forward.

When all is said and done, Cassidy will still have an audience. He’ll get over the initial blast of media coverage and likely (hopefully) get some help. Many people will judge him based on thinking he was “Keith Partridge,” who went wrong. Others will see him as an ungrateful superstar who disdained the medium that gave him his fame, specifically family night on television. He may choose to embrace his troubles and deal with them head on, and then put in the hours to fix what was broken, whatever “it” may be.

If you’d like to leave a message for Cassidy, at least a few weeks ago, he invited fans to share their comments on his blog. You can find it here. Maybe in time, after he pays the proper price, not the kind you have PR people take care of for you because you’re a celebrity or you’re important but the kind where you look straight into the mirror and ask yourself exactly why it is that you hate your life so very much that you want to be numbed from it, he will change his life, his lifestyle, and get back to staying true to his talent. It’s the only real thing he has left in his world at this time, save a few family and friends who do care whether or not he’s happy. One can only wish him well and the best of luck.