David Cassidy spent his final months in despair as the former teen idol believed he was battling dementia, though it was really alcohol that caused his rapid decline, the producer of a documentary about the singer revealed.
“The Partridge Family” actor is the subject of a new A&E documentary titled “David Cassidy: The Last Session." Producer John Marks told Fox News he never witnessed Cassidy drinking and the fallen star truly believed his significant memory loss was caused by dementia, not liver disease, which doctors later diagnosed him with during his hospitalization.
Cassidy evenutally revealed to producers he was drinking.
“I have liver disease,” Cassidy revealed during filming. “There is no sign of me having dementia at this stage of my life. It was complete alcohol poisoning.”
“There weren’t any bottles around,” said Marks. “We could see he was having a hard time getting around. We knew that years on the road, or at least what we were told, had taken its toll on him. But when he actually came into the studio, he was there to work.
"And when he was no longer able to work, when he just felt too much pain, was exhausted, or his voice couldn’t get there, we shut down the session. There wasn’t any erratic, drunken behavior off-screen… He seemed convinced dementia was his problem.”
Cameras followed Cassidy as he underwent several exams to find out what was causing his memory loss, which would impact him while performing. Marks revealed that Cassidy, who had witnessed his mother Evelyn Ward’s health deteriorate until she died at age 89 in 2012, feared he too was faced with the same illness.
Cassidy had also worked with organizations to educate the public about Alzheimer’s disease and believed the documentary would further shed some light on the condition.
“The doctors wanted to do more tests,” said Marks. “They did see some signs that there could be an issue, but they weren’t comfortable issuing anything like a diagnosis. So I think David came out of that appointment… feeling hopeful that maybe it wasn’t as bad as he feared or maybe it could be dealt with.
"Was he hiding the truth artfully or lying to himself or in denial about what was really wrong with him? That is something I don’t know. We never really had a chance to talk about that. It’s a bit of a mystery.”
Cassidy, who invited the documentary film crew to chronicle his journey in August, fell gravely and unexpectedly ill during production. He died in November 2017 at the age of 67.
During the documentary's filming, Cassidy also faced another struggle: recollecting painful memories of his father, actor Jack Cassidy. The famous patriarch died suddenly in 1976 at age 49 in a fire that swept through his Los Angeles apartment.
The New York Times reported at the time Jack Cassidy’s body was so badly burned that it had to be identified by the medical examiner through dental charts. His pop star son was 26 at the time.
“I think in general David wanted to celebrate his father, but he did not want to conceal the truth about that relationship either,” said Marks. “… One minute, he’s talking about how he idolized his father from the first minute he saw him. But at the same time, he wanted to make clear that his father had not been much of a dad. And that he had been an abandoned child."
During filming, David Cassidy also described how he struggled over the years to live up to his squeaky-clean image. He memorably attempted to transition into a rock star by posing nude for the cover of 1972’s Rolling Stone.
After “The Partridge Family” came to an end in 1974, the star never achieved the same kind of stardom and struggled in the spotlight. Cassidy was charged with driving under the influence on three separate occasions between November 2010 and January 2014 before entering rehab.
“He was one of the biggest stars in the world for four years,” explained Marks. “He had an entourage. Couldn’t go out in public. He had to hide just to leave his concerts. And then for that extraordinary level of fame to just disappear... I just think that while [fame] is kind of a fairy tale… it’s almost a little bit like your standing in the middle of a forest fire. And you burn up. And I just think that’s what happened to him. And I think he also had a legacy of alcoholism in his family. And it’s not uncommon for people with that level of scrutiny and that much stress and pressure in their lives to turn to alcohol as a way to numb it all.”
When Cassidy eventually found out he had liver disease, Marks insisted the star was relieved by the diagnosis.
“I do really think he was caught off-guard in some way by what happened to him,” said Marks. “He was legitimately terrified of dementia. That I’m convinced of. His experience with his mother was traumatic. So I think he imagined that he was going to be in the same boat she was in and really didn’t know what to do about it.
“But I think this other thing that was hidden from all of us, and perhaps hidden from himself, was a revelation to him… And he was relieved… He was relieved in some ways that his problem was something he can deal with by choice and wasn’t just his brain deteriorating. I think that was an enormous liberation for him.”
“David Cassidy: The Last Session” airs Monday at 9.pm. on A&E.