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David Cassidy: Pop's ‘Family' Favorite

The "Partridge Family" star, who died Tuesday at age 67, delivered on his promise to help fans get happy

David Cassidy wasn't the first musically talented teenybopper heartthrob launched from a family friendly sitcom (Ricky Nelson beat him by a dozen years).

And he wasn't the first superstar hatched from a music-filled TV comedy built around a pre-fabricated, recording studio-enhanced band (The Monkees were four years ahead of that game).

But Cassidy, who died Tuesday at age 67, carved his own place in pop culture history as lead-singing "Partridge Family" sibling Keith – forging a fan connection as sweet as bubble gum, but far longer lasting.

He oozed appeal on multiple levels: Cassidy proved equally lovable as a sitcom big brother who played straight man to his TV brother Danny (Danny Bonaduce) and as a shaggy-haired pop idol who played to countless screaming fans.

Cassidy arrived armed with a disarming smile and a singing voice by turns reassuring and confident. He infused well-crafted treacle like "I Think I Love You" with a mix of borderline-melodramatic urgency and euphoria that got the pubescent set crying for more (even if most were too young to know exactly what "more" meant).

"The Partridge Family" landed in 1970 as a bastion of rock-and-roll wholesomeness a year after Woodstock. As the generation gap grew, millions watched a show about a widowed mom joining her five kids in the family band, hopping in an old school bus and singing that it was time to "get happy."

The somewhat meta set-up – Cassidy's stepmother, Shirley Jones, played his mother – added to the family friendly air. So did the show's Friday night timeslot on ABC, alongside "The Brady Bunch," another sunny, big-brood sitcom that exercises an oddly enduring hold on the popular consciousness more than four decades after its final delivery of affable fluff.

Still, the guitar-slinging Cassidy, whose musical ambitions ran more toward creating the next "Purple Haze" than endlessly crooning "I Woke Up in Love This Morning," became the proverbial captive of his own fame. He tried to break out of the gilded Partridge cage, most notably with a risqué, carefully cropped Rolling Stone cover shot by Annie Leibovitz in 1972.

It didn't work.

He eventually found a post-sitcom, post-superstardom niche in musical theater, most notably via "Blood Brothers." In an early 1990s production, he played opposite his younger half-brother Shaun, the "Hardy Boys"-propelled teen idol who achieved more enduring success behind the camera.

Recent years weren't kind to David Cassidy, who quickly got fired by Donald Trump on "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2011, and gained unwanted headlines as he battled the bottle and, eventually, dementia. 

But Cassidy died Tuesday with his image forever intact as the safe, first celebrity crush of legions – the green-eyed, forever young leader of the band who delivered on his promise of helping fans get happy.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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