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Last year, several dozen David Cassidy fans – some of whom embarked on their journey from a few thousand miles away – descended on the Spa City last year to celebrate the life of David Cassidy. The popular singer died in November 2017 at the age of 67.
The inaugural event, billed as “A Celebration of David Cassidy’s Life,” was initiated by Cassidy fan Samantha Cox, from her home in Indiana. “I chose Saratoga because he was into horse racing and he mentioned it as his favorite place in the world,”said Cox, adding that she took on as her New Year’s Resolution a mission to do something to honor Cassidy’s life.
Cassidy appeared on The Partridge Family TV series, which aired on ABC from 1970 to 1974, and subsequently launched a solo music career. He charted more than one dozen Top 100 hits in the early 1970s, both as a solo artist and in his role as a member of the Partridge Family. Cassidy’s passion for equines frequently brought him to Saratoga, where he bought his first yearling and where in 2001 he purchased a home.
This year, a gathering to honor Cassidy will be held May 19-20.
Sunday May 19
10 a.m. - Re-dedication of the David Cassidy Benches at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs.
6 p.m. to midnight - Author Johnny Ray Miller will sign copies of his book “When We're Singin',” and will be joined by Michael V. Pomarico – the multi-daytime Emmy Award winner who for over 27 years directed the soap opera “All My Children.” Live music will be performed by 45rpm and the event will include a silent auction. Up for auction: a boat once owned by David Cassidy, donated by his friends Dr. Jerry Bilinski and his wife, Darlene. Horse trainer Gary Contessa is also scheduled to perform on stage for a couple of numbers. Location: King Neptune's Pub, 1 Kurosaka Lane, Lake George. Tickets: $35.
Monday May 20
Noon to 4 p.m. at King Neptune's Pub - Johnny Ray Miller and Michael V. Pomarico will return for a brunch catered by King Neptune's Pub. The celebration of David Cassidy's life will take place with people giving testimonials of how much David meant to them, live and on video. The silent auctions will also continue. Tickets: $50. Proceeds will go to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Columbia Greene Humane Society, Adirondack Save A Stray.
For more information on all events and to purchase tickets, go to: www.kingneptunespub.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Several dozen David Cassidy fans – some of whom embarked on their journey from a few thousand miles away – descended on the Spa City last weekend to celebrate the life of the late singer who had inspired them with song and for some helped navigate a clear and hope-filled path through a troubled time of adolescence.
Robin Smith, who first watched Cassidy perform onstage in 1972 in Houston when she was a young teenager, came in from Texas. Michael Oliver and Denise Kirth made the trip to the Spa City from Ohio. Marlene Habib brought along copies of her recently penned a 42-page tribute booklet, “David Cassidy: Crazy Over You in Saratoga,” and Annette Trotta-Flynn arrived with an active social media campaign to get Cassidy inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “It’s a labor of love,” she said. “David cared about his fans. We’re continuing his legacy.”
One woman made the cross-Atlantic trip to Saratoga Springs from her home in Belgium. “I saw him in Antwerp in 1973 and it was an extreme experience for me,” related the woman, whose name is Veerle. “I was always a fan, but (as time went on) he wasn’t coming to my country anymore. I wanted to come to the U.S. to see him play, but then the bad news came that he was sick, and then he passed,” she lamented. “I made contact with some of his American fans and learned about this event, so that’s why I wanted to come.”
The event, billed as “A Celebration of David Cassidy’s Life,” was initiated by Samantha Cox from her home in Indiana. After the singer died in November 2017 at the age of 67, Cox said she took on as her New Year’s Resolution a mission to do something to honor Cassidy’s life.
“I chose Saratoga because he was into horse racing and he mentioned it as his favorite place in the world,” says Cox, who previously had never been to the Spa City. Her inquiries led her to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame opposite Saratoga Race Course which Cassidy frequented during the summer meet, and subsequently coordinated a successful social media effort that raised in excess of the $2,500 goal required to permanently place a memorial bench in Cassidy’s honor in the museum courtyard.
Cassidy, who appeared on several TV shows in a non-musical role, gained international stardom after he was cast as “Keith Partridge” on “Partridge Family” sitcom, which was broadcast from 1970 to 1974. He simultaneously launched a solo music career that saw him perform on some of the world’s biggest stages. His passion for equines dates back to the 1970s and frequent visits to Saratoga, where he bought his first yearling and where he eventually purchased a home.
At the same time Cox was mounting her Cassidy campaign, Columbia County based horse owner, breeder and veterinarian Dr. Jerry Bilinski and horse trainer Gary Contessa were also partnering on placing a bench in Cassidy’s honor in the newly named Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Courtyard. Last week, both benches were publicly unveiled, and many Cassidy fans made a long weekend of their visit to Saratoga Springs - visiting the museum and then staging a gathering at Spa City Tap and Barrel on Caroline Street Sunday night.
“On November 21, God called David home, but I like to believe he is looking down today on us and smiling,” Cox told the group of fans who gathered at the Celebration of Life event Sunday night.
Fans shared reminiscences of long ago concerts punctuated by deafening screams and blinding flashbulbs, as Cassidy jumped and gyrated in a white jumpsuit across the stage. Members of his band offered pre-recorded commentary via an overhead screen and Cassidy’s music was piped into the venue at varied intervals.
An announcement was also made that a special David Cassidy Tribute Concert – featuring members of Cassidy’s band - will be staged at the Horseshoe Inn on Aug. 14. The concert will act as fundraiser for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s David Cassidy Sanctuary Fund. Cassidy was a supporter of the Saratoga Springs based organization, which was founded in 1983 with a mission to save Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter.
Dr. Bilinski, who first met Cassidy when the performer brought his horses to Bilinski’s farm, addressed the crowd and spoke of their longtime friendship.
“When David first visited with us, we went out on the veranda and had a cigar – which we did for many years after that. The next morning, I noticed that the cigar as well as the ashtray were confiscated by (my wife) Darlene. That happened to be among a long list of memorabilia that we collected,” he told the attentive crowd.
Bilinski would go on to purchase Cassidy’s Jaguar for his wife Darlene, swap his snowmobile for Cassidy’s jet boat, take up the singer’s invitation to travel overseas and watch him perform in London, as well as end up with a bounty of signed record albums.
“He came to our farm many times. We sat on the porch discussing life and discussing entertainers: The Stones, The Beatles – some of these were heroes of mine back in the day, and he knew most of these people,” Bilinski said. “We would watch the horses, coming in and out from the fields. It became an important friendship for Darlene and I.”
Darlene Bilinski shared her own memories, which spanned from her childhood to the present day. “When I was a little girl, my girlfriend and I had tea parties. One of us would be Mrs. Cassidy and one of us would be Mrs. Osmond. There was a Bobby Sherman in there once as well, I think, but we would usually fight over David,” she said, with a laugh. “He was a great friend, a great guy. I loved him and miss him. I talked to him just before he died. I asked him: Do you want me to come down? He said, ‘No, I’ll be there next summer.’ We know that didn’t happen, but I feel he is with us, this evening.”
“David just loved it here and I can see now why this was his favorite place,” Cox said. “He was an entertainer and performer, but he was so much more to us, like a friend, there at down moments of our lives with a caring heart…I had an extremely difficult childhood. David’s music lifted my spirits. It inspired me to not give up.”
It would be inaccurate to hear a fan’s appreciation for Cassidy and categorize it simply a walk down memory lane. Many who attended the weekend events in Cassidy’s honor spoke of the music as an inspiration that helped transcend awkward and often difficult times: an escape, perhaps, or a technique more likely to carve of their own a new reality. And it was to the person who had provided this hope, to whom they were paying tribute.
The May 20 event was initially intended to be a one-time gathering, but in its aftermath, Cox expressed the desire to turn May 20 in Saratoga Springs David Cassidy Day into an annual event.
The David Cassidy Tribute Concert concert, featuring members of Cassidy’s band, will be staged Aug. 14 at the Horseshoe Inn. Tickets are $50 and are being made available via the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s web site.
Susan Cox remembers those magical nights, eyes fixed on the television set in her grandparents living room in Indiana, waiting to see what kind of musical mayhem would ensue. On the screen, a single mother of five alternated sitting behind the wheel of the family’s multicolored school bus and “playing” the piano to lead her musically imbued children in song.
It was the eldest sibling, played David Cassidy, who most captured the attention of Cox, as well as millions of others across America.
“I had watched him on TV dramas like “The Mod Squad,” and “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and he was a dramatic actor of course, but from the first time I heard David Cassidy sing, I thought he was phenomenal. And ‘The Partridge Family’ I watched religiously, every Friday night, with my grandparents. My grandmother used to say: ‘He’s so nice-looking, but he needs a haircut,’” she says with a laugh.
“I was a fan since I was 11 years old. I had an extremely difficult childhood, and my grandparents raised me. David’s music lifted my spirits. It inspired me to not give up,” Cox says. “I’d sit in my room and listen to his music like every other teenage girl at the time. We were all David crazy.”
Cassidy launched a solo music career and following the “Partridge Family” sitcom TV show run, which concluded in 1974, Cassidy also resumed his acting career as well as following his love of horses. His passion for equines frequently brought him to Saratoga, where he bought his first yearling and where in 2001 he purchased a home.
“When David passed away in 2017, I felt the need to do something,” says the 60-year-old Cox, who worked at Notre Dame for 12 years, a handful of them in a fundraising capacity. “He gave so much of his life to his fans. He talked about how he loved us, and he knew we loved him. I chose Saratoga because he was into horse racing and he mentioned it as his favorite place in the world, so I started calling places in Saratoga Springs looking for a place to put a (memorial) bench.”
Her inquiries led her to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, which sits on Union Avenue directly across Saratoga Race Course which Cassidy frequented during the summer meet. Honoring Cassidy with a bench – the singer died in November 2017 at the age of 67 - would require Cox raising $2,500.
“It was my New Year’s resolution to do something for David. I opened a public Facebook page on Jan. 15 – the David Cassidy Memorial Bench at The National Museum of Racing. I think the first day it had 300 people liking the page. And it just kept going. Donations have come in I had People from Germany, from Malta, South America – Mexico, Columbia and Brazil – I’ve made so many new friends,” Cox says. “By January 30, all the funds were raised. Donations were still coming as of late April and all the excess goes directly into the annual fund in memory of David. I’m hoping I raised a lot of money for the museum because they were so gracious.” Following Cassidy’s lead, Cox says she has also embraced the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which provides sanctuary to hundreds of horses across the country.
The bench was unveiled Thursday night in the revitalized museum courtyard, which has undergone a winterlong renovation. And in recognition of a $250,000 gift from prominent racehorse owner, philanthropist and Saratoga icon Marylou Whitney, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame named its courtyard in honor of Marylou’s late husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney – who was among the museum’s founders in 1950 and served as the institution’s first president. The Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Courtyard will feature two benches honoring Cassidy. One is the result of a partnering between horse trainer Gary Contessa – who has more than 2,200 winning races under his belt - and Columbia County based horse owner, breeder and veterinarian Dr. Jerry Bilinski. The other Cassidy bench has been dedicated by singer’s fans, who will be flocking to the Spa City during the weekend.
David Cassidy Fans’ Day at Museum on Sunday
“Sunday, May 20 will be our day to see the bench and reflect on his life,” Cox says. The museum has set a 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. window on Sunday specifically to welcome Cassidy’s fans. The courtyard will be open to the public and admission is free.
“David has got fans worldwide and there are people from Germany, from Great Britain and from Canada who are coming to the event,” says Cox, who will be making the 730-mile trek from her home in Indiana. A private Celebration of Life Event, featuring guest speakers and fan reminiscences will take place later Sunday night.
“When I started the campaign, I hoped and prayed that we could get this for David, this permanent memorial tribute to him. He was more than an entertainer, he was a good person with a good heart,” Cox says. “From the moment I reached out to the museum, they have been so gracious. I know that we’ll have an awesome time in Saratoga Springs. Your people up there are really phenomenal.”
“I'll feel really good when it's over. I have an image of myself... I'm living on an island. The sky is blue, the sun is shining. And I'm smiling..." -- David Cassidy, Rolling Stone, May 11, 1972.
There were 20,000 of them, more or less, each seemingly armed with cheap, pocket-sized cameras crowned by four-sided cubes whose white flash burned your retinas with every image attempted to capture the teen idol on stage.
They had watched him, this crowd of mostly young girls, the past 18 months on TV - singing songs, driving the Partridge Family’s Mondrian-inspired bus - and bought millions of his albums, collected his trading cards, and carried to school lunchboxes bedizened with his image. And now here he was: live, in person, and on stage at the world’s most famous arena. It was a Madison Square Garden that had belonged to Ali and Frazier, Giacomin and Gilbert, Willis and Clyde. On this night, however, it was all about David Cassidy.
In 1972, a gallon of gas cost fifty-five cents, the average monthly rent was $165, and the annual household income about $12,000. It was a year that saw Crazy Joe Gallo gunned down at Umberto’s Clam House, five men arrested for breaking in to the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel and the gold medal achievements of Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut overshadowed when 11 Israelis, five guerillas and one police officer were killed in a 20-hour siege at the Munich Games.
Cassidy sang 15 or so songs, his 21-year-old torso coiling and squirming inside a white crepe jumpsuit and sending its fringe adornments reeling. “I’ll meet you halfway/ that’s better than no way,” he crooned. There were others: “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat,” and “Cherish.” “I Woke Up In Love This Morning,” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted.” At Madison Square Garden, his TV/ real-life mom Shirley Partridge Jones sat in the first row.
My dad - then a youthful man in his thirties whose land of origins had given birth to 300 Spartans who did battle at Thermopylae and who as a child had escaped the Nazi plunder of his village – shook his head in disbelief at the commotion and plugged fingers into his ears to attempt to mute the shrill shrieks of teen-girl idolatry caterwauling down from the blue seats that called David’s name. It was a cacophonous chorus that my sister, six or seven years of age at the time, willingly joined. The sound of the screams rang around in your head for several days after.
Cassidy was a frequent summer visitor to Saratoga Springs. You’d run into him at the racecourse, or coming out of the Wilton Mall cinema, or at Fasig-Tipton - where he bought his first yearling in 1974. In 2001, he purchased a house in Saratoga Springs. It was a Monday night in August seven years later when he stood up in front of 250 people at a fundraising gala for The Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council at the Hall of Springs and publicly announced, for the first time, that he was an alcoholic. The revelation, which was unexpected, left some in the audience stunned.
“I was in denial about it, and the problem was getting worse,” said Cassidy, his wife Sue and his son Beau at his side. Cassidy talked about his genetical link to his own father, the actor Jack Cassidy. “Bipolar, manic-depressive, alcoholic and a genius,” he told the audience.
Wife Sue said she was proud of her husband for having the courage to publicly share such a personal experience. “Seeing him up here and telling you all this is one of the greatest things that I could ever hope to be able to be a part of,” said 17-year-old Beau.
Cassidy acknowledged that the location of the Hall of Springs, sitting as it does adjacent to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, created an interesting juxtaposition that merged the past and the present; a time for new beginnings to lead into the future.
“This is my favorite place in the world. ... I played here in '72, '73, '74,” Cassidy remembered. “What was ironic when I drove up, was that I realized this journey has been going on for so many years. And the journey is now. Every day, 24 hours, to stay sober.”
You got the feeling on that August night in 2008 that what stood before you was a person at a the flashpoint of their own existence, burning white-hot as the flash residue of 20,000 cameras all those years ago. You got the feeling, that night in 2008, that things could go either way. It did not go well. What followed was a series of drunken driving charges, a divorce from wife Sue Shifrin after more than 20 years of marriage, and Cassidy’s revelation earlier this year that he’d been diagnosed with dementia and was struggling with memory loss.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, he was admitted to a Florida hospital, reportedly with multiple organ failure. Time was running out. For millions of people who were born, say, between 1960 and 1965, the sadness of confronting their own mortality comingled with the childhood innocence of youthful dreams. “Prayers please,” Sue Shifrin Cassidy wrote Nov. 18 on Twitter. Nov. 19: David is still with us. Keep praying. Nov. 20: Critical but stable. Nov. 22: God was in that room tonight. Point him in the direction of... heaven. RIP.