Actor David Cassidy, who's best known for portraying heartthrob Keith Partridge on the 1970s sitcom The Partridge Family, has revealed that he is battling dementia. Most fans of Cassidy and the show have responded to this news with heartache about his condition and admiration for his bravery in sharing his struggles. But the most unusual reaction to date comes from Shaun Partridge, co-founder of the Partridge Family Temple, a highly unusual religious organization that worships Cassidy as the human incarnation of a god, as we described in a 1995 Westword feature article.
"Gurus will sometimes take on ailments, pain, suffering and the sin of their devotees," Shaun says. "They'll suffer for their devotees because they love them so much. And David Cassidy is taking on the sins of the planet, because right now, the world is suffering from dementia. So it's sad to watch your gods suffer. What we're experiencing is what people experienced watching Christ on the cross."
Shaun currently lives in Portland, Oregon. But the seeds of the Partridge Family Temple were planted in Denver circa 1988, when Shaun and fellow PFT co-founder Reverend Dan Partridge visited the home of Mile High resident Adam Sleek and were lifted to a higher plane by Keith/Cassidy and his fellow Partridge Family relatives: mother Shirley (Shirley Jones) and siblings Laurie (Susan Dey), Danny (Danny Bonaduce, who did talk radio in Denver in the early 2000s), Chris (alternately portrayed by two actors, Jeremy Gelbwaks and Brian Forster) and Tracy (Suzanne Crough).
Here's the sect's origin story, from our 1995 feature "C'mon, Get Happy":
"Adam just kept playing Partridge Family music constantly — I'd wake up to it," Shaun says. "It was starting to piss me off, the way he would stare at us and sing the songs over and over again. But then I started listening to it and I realized — hey, this is good music. And then, a little bit later, I had the revelation that the people in The Partridge Family were the gods and goddesses you read about in school. They've been around since the beginning of time, but they had different names in different ages. And in 1970, they decided, `Hey, let's get a hit TV show.'"
"After that, Keith spoke to us and said, `I am your Lord — worship me,'" Reverend Dan goes on. "And for a couple of weeks I said yes, and I was teaching everybody about the beauty of the Partridge Family. But then I started doubting it. But then I had another experience: I was in a car accident and I was drowning in a giant pool of blood, and Laurie pulled me out of the pool of blood with her hands and gave me a French kiss, and it brought me back to life. I didn't doubt anymore after that."
In the Partridge Family Temple theology, Keith is the war god, and also the male sex god, because in his autobiography (C'mon, Get Happy: Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus), Cassidy dishes about his enormous penis and horizontal escapades with the likes of Italian screen sensation Gina Lollobrigida. Shirley, for her part, is the virgin mother/earth goddess, Laurie is the holy whore of Babylon, Danny is the trickster god, and Chris and Tracy are the essence of innocence.
Together, Partridge Family Temple members believe, this quintet offers a road to "pure bliss that bathes Temple devotees from birth until death," the 1995 story notes. "And beyond: According to Templers, all of us will eventually ascend to Albuquerque (a destination foretold in the Partridge Family song 'Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque'), which they describe as a heavenly place that looks a whole lot like a giant Casa Bonita" — an eatery that Reverend Dan once dubbed "our holy temple."
The best-known Partridge Family Temple worshiper is Boyd Rice, an experimental/noise musician who's recorded under the name NON and his own moniker; Shaun and his sister, Giddle Partridge, have contributed to his albums. Another Denverite, Rice also served a stint as official spokesperson for the Church of Satan.
As for Cassidy, he spoke to us about the Partridge Family Temple back in 1995, as he was headed to Denver to co-star in the stage presentation of Blood Brothers alongside English songbird Petula Clark — a prospect that delighted the assorted Temple members giddy.
"I've done some concerts around the United States in the last two or three years, and they've come to a couple of my shows," he said at the time. "They were handing out literature and all kinds of bizarre stuff. At first I thought it was just somebody winding me up, but then I had a couple of the guys who work for me check it out, and they told me they talked to someone who was seemingly very convinced that he was a high priest of the Partridge Family church."
When it came time to comment on the Temple, however, Cassidy was cautious. "I don't mind it if it's just for fun," he said. "The Partridge Family definitely depicted fun and was representative of a time of freedom — really the last gasp of innocence in America. There was a dichotomy there, in that it was an era when dope, sex and cheap thrills were socially acceptable. Yet it stood for a very moral picture of what American families were like."
He added: "Once one puts the spin of religion or church on it, though, it suddenly becomes rather serious, and we get concerned. As somebody brought up here in America, I respect everybody's right to choose whatever religious belief they want. But believe me, these were fictitious characters. The producers and the creators of the show only wanted to do something that would be a good time and commercially viable."
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That Cassidy withheld his blessing didn't dampen the enthusiasm of his congregants. Nearly three decades after the truth about Keith and company was first disclosed, Shaun and the Partridge Family Temple have an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr by way of a page festooned with graphics by one Whale Song Partridge. There's also a website that is currently peddling a new book, To Know God Is to Love God, available for just $22 plus $5 for shipping and handling. Among the topics taken up in the tome is "Un-Yoga, which is based on the holy elixir 7Up," Shaun allows. (7Up was Keith's favorite beverage.) According to him, "Un-Yoga is basically alchemy and yoga as one. As we walk through this crazy blue-marble dream, we try and take the negative and transform it into the positive magic of Albuquerque."
Thus far, To Know God Is to Love God hasn't popped up on any list of best sellers — but there's hope. When asked about the current number of Temple followers, Shaun replies, "Dan said it best: 'Every single person on the planet is a member of the Partridge Family Temple. They just don't know it yet.' In a sense, they just haven't bloomed. It's all about flower power."
Cassidy's dementia diagnosis isn't the first tragedy to befall The Partridge Family cast. Youngest child Tracy's human vessel, Suzanne Crough, died in 2015 at age 52. "It was a big shock for the Partridge Family Temple when we heard she'd gone to Albuquerque," Shaun acknowledges. "Afterward, we did the Easter basket ritual. Easter is the high Temple holiday; we're really into eggs and the rebirth scene, the resurrection. You get a chocolate rabbit for fertility and you eat it, so that she's forever and you're forever and you're one and the same."
He strikes a similar chord in summing up his thoughts about Cassidy's health. "He's doing this for us," he insists, "and that's horrifying — but it's edifying at the same time. Because we're all one. Everything seems so divided in these times, but we need to remember that as the world has gotten crazier, we're all one. All is one, all is fun, fun is the law. We need to live each day as if it was our last 24 hours on Earth. Just be as groovy and creative as you can possibly be. David Cassidy teaches us that."