David Cassidy, dementia and his tragic family history – The Mercury News
In going public with the news that he has dementia, David Cassidy admits that a part of him knew he would always fall prey to the memory-destroying brain disorder.
The former teen idol and “Partridge Family” actor watched his grandfather struggle with dementia and his mother “disappear” from it as well. On Monday, Cassidy acknowledged that he, too, is struggling with the disorder in an interview with People.
“I was in denial, but a part of me always knew this was coming,” he told the magazine.
Cassidy, 66, also revealed that he has decided to stop touring as a musician to concentrate on his health and happiness. “I want to focus on what I am, who I am and how I’ve been without any distractions,” he says. “I want to love. I want to enjoy life.”
Cassidy decided to go public with his diagnosis a day after TMZ posted a video of him at a concert near Los Angeles over the weekend. During the performance, Cassidy slurred his words and forgot lyrics, prompting the gossip website to speculate that Cassidy had “fallen off the wagon,” a reference to Cassidy’s long struggle with alcohol abuse, including a stint in rehab in 2014.
But the truth lay in Cassidy’s tragic family history with dementia.
In the past, when Cassidy was discussing his mother, actress Evelyn Ward, or grandfather, he was more than willing to open up about the disorder’s impact on his family.
Before his mother died in 2012 at age 89, Cassidy had become a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, traveling around the nation to tell his personal story about his mother’s dementia.
His aim wasn’t just to educate the public but to acknowledge people who take care of parents with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and the daily struggle of watching a parent’s decline.
“I wanted to use my notoriety to put myself in a position to help others,” he said in an interview with AgingCare.com. “I wanted to educate and tell my story.”
Cassidy comes from a Hollywood family with its share of tragedy. His father was actor Jack Cassidy who suffered from bipolar disorder and alcoholism. Towards the end of his life, Jack Cassidy displayed increasingly erratic behavior and died in a fire in his apartment in 1976 when he fell asleep with a lit cigarette. His stepmother is Shirley Jones, who co-starred with him in “The Partridge Family,” a 1970s sitcom about a widow and her five children who tour together as a rock band.
As an actress, Cassidy’s mother Evelyn Ward appeared on Broadway and in classic TV shows such as “Perry Mason,” “Dr. Kildare” and “Ben Casey.” Like many others, Cassidy told AgingCare.com, he didn’t pay much attention to the first signs of Alzheimers-related dementia in his mother: how, for example, she couldn’t remember names well.
He said his mother also was living in a different state, so he didn’t see up close how she was struggling. Also her husband, coming from a generation that regarded dementia as making someone “senile” and “crazy” and therefore having something shameful, apparently covered for her and always assured Cassidy on the phone that she was doing fine.
But a few months after his mother’s husband died, Cassidy learned the truth about his mother when he got a call from a friend of hers saying she hadn’t been doing well lately.
Less than 48 hours later, he received a call from the police, saying that his mother had been found in the street in her nightgown, crying. That’s when Cassidy learned his mother had been struggling with dementia for months or possibly years.
He immediately became her long-distance caregiver, finding her a place to live in a skilled nursing facility. He talked about his sadness in seeing her decline: “Mom was a wonderful signer, actress and dancer. So full of life,” he said. “To watch someone who raised you who was so vibrant is the most painful thing I ever experienced.”
In her final years, their conversations were limited, with Cassidy only occasionally certain his mother recognized him. Even though she stopped being able to speak, Cassidy said would tell her how much he loved her, how beautiful she still was and how good it felt to hold her hand.
Cassidy’s revelation about his own condition follows a decade of high-profile personal ups and downs and more recent on-stage meltdowns.
He’s had multiple arrests for drunk driving, according to USA Today. A month after his third arrest in January 2014, his wife, Sue Shifrin-Cassidy, filed for divorce.
In February 2015, Cassidy filed for bankruptcy. And in October 2015, he was charged in a hit-and-run crash in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after he allegedly sideswiped a truck and then allegedly attempted to cover his license plate as he fled the scene.
Even before his weekend’s troubled performance, Cassidy had decided he would retire from performing at the end of 2017.
On February 7, he posted on his website this message: “I will always be eternally grateful for the love and support you’ve shown me. I still love very much to play and perform live. But it’s much more difficult for me now. I’m not going to vanish or disappear forever.