I only hope Mum can pass away with dignity: David Cassidy reveals the pain of his mother's Alzheimer's
00:48 GMT, 18 May 2012
When David Cassidy performed at the Magic City Casino in Miami last month, it was a show tinged with sadness.
He’d been due to take to the stage with former Monkees front man Davy Jones, but 66-year-old Jones died of a heart attack in February.
The two had had a great deal in common, both finding success at an early age as handsome idols to a generation of screaming teen fans, and both surviving almost toxic levels of fame to forge careers well into their 60s.
It was only in the last five years or so that the two Davids became good friends, ‘but we had a lot of similar experiences and there was a real mutual respect between us,’ says Cassidy. ‘I was shocked at his death.'
Looking good: David Cassidy at 62
Cassidy knows that the trick isn’t simply to hold onto fame, but to survive it. He had been the biggest solo star in the world in the early Seventies with hits such as I Think I Love You and Could It Be Forever, and knew all about the hazards of fame thanks to well-documented spells of drug and alcohol usage.
Stepping back and taking a close look at him now, it’s slightly surprising how good he still looks. He bounds to the door of his home in Florida’s Fort Lauderdale, looking as tanned and trim as he ever was in his dungaree-wearing heyday.
At 62, there’s absolutely no sign of a pot belly. ‘Oh no,’ he says, horrified. ‘I eat well, and I don’t drink or take drugs.’ The hair, though no longer in a lustrous feather cut, is still very much there. ‘But I do dye it, as I was going silver in my 30s,’ he says.
Currently taking a breather, he’s gearing up for a UK tour in November, where he will be joined by fellow Seventies stars Leo Sayer, 64, and Errol Brown, 63, of Hot Chocolate.
Though the Once In A Lifetime tour has been labelled, rather unkindly, ‘the oldest show in town’ in some quarters, it’s certain to bring out the massed ranks of Cassidy fans.
‘I’ve always had a special relationship with the UK fans, because even when I wasn’t working they were very supportive,’ he says. ‘My music was never considered cool, but I’ve always felt that connection with the audience.
David with mum Evelyn Ward in 1990, before her illness
‘November really is a celebration for me and the UK fans who have been so loyal. I’m not saying that I won’t tour again, but the chances are slim because my priorities are different now.’
The reason for Cassidy’s shifting concerns is, unfortunately, an unhappy one.
His mother, actress Evelyn Ward, has been suffering with an Alzheimer’s-related disease for several years, and Cassidy is talking about it for the first time in the hope of raising awareness of the illness.
‘As people are now living well into their 80s, the cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s are on the increase,’ he says. ‘My mother has been in 24-hour nursing care for seven years now, and I’m lucky to be able to afford it, but many people aren’t that lucky.
‘People don’t really want to talk about it, but we need to, which is why I’m going to be speaking publicly about it.’
Evelyn Ward appeared regularly on Sixties TV shows such as Perry Mason and Dr Kildare. She married actor Jack Cassidy in 1948 and David was born two years later.
‘After their divorce in 1956, my mother basically raised me for years on her own and worked to support me,’ he says. ‘She did over 20 Broadway shows and was a very independent, talented, loving human being.
‘Seeing such a vibrant woman reduced to this is really just heartbreaking.’
Now 88, Evelyn ‘can’t walk, can’t talk and lives in a nappy’ he says. She receives round-the-clock care at a nursing facility in Los Angeles.
‘About eight years ago, when she could still communicate, I asked her if she wanted to stay here with us in Florida, but she was adamant about staying in LA,’ says David. ‘In retrospect, I don’t know if we could have looked after her properly.’
'She went downhill quite fast about two years ago. She can’t walk or talk. I went to see her about a month ago and she recognised me, as a tear came down her face. It’s heartbreaking, actually'
It was about ten years ago that the family first noticed something was wrong. ‘My son Beau spent a couple of days with her when he was about 12, and he told me: “Dad, Grandma’s acting really weird.”
‘I’ve never been someone who called their parents a lot — maybe just once a week. In recent years, she’d sometimes repeat herself a lot, but it would usually be a quick conversation, as I guess her husband was covering for her memory loss.
‘That’s kind of the family problem – feeling that sense of shame, despair and panic when things are wrong. There was that sense of denial.
‘But then I got a call from a hospital in California. My mother had been found in her nightgown in the middle of the road after midnight. She didn’t know where she was, and was admitted to the psychiatric ward. It was one of the most traumatic events of my life.
‘That was when we realised the depth of the problem.
‘She went downhill quite fast about two years ago. She does recognise me when I see her, but she can’t walk or talk. Beau and I went to see her about a month ago and she recognised me, as a tear came down her face. It’s heartbreaking, actually.
Friends: David Cassidy had grown close to late Monkee Davy Jones before his death
‘It would be wrong to say I wish my mother would pass,’ he says softly, ‘but I wish my mother would pass with dignity. It’s so painful seeing her like this. It’s such a cruel and debilitating disease.’
His family, has, he says, been a tremendous support. He is married to singer-songwriter Sue Shifrin, with whom he has been for 25 years, but it hasn’t always been easy.
‘Sue and I have definitely gone through the fire together,’ he says, ‘and we had an episode not too long ago when we separated. It was a month or so after Beau moved out to college.
‘Sue works and is a highly emotional human being, and I work and live at a high pitch, so with all those elements, plus with Beau moving out, we got to a point where we had to decide if we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.
‘We didn’t consider divorce, it was more a question of would we be happier in separate residences But, in the end, we just missed each other’s love and support and company, and so we got back together again.’
As well as Beau, who’s 21, David, who says he never earned his own father’s approval, also has a daughter, 25-year-old actress Katie Cassidy, by model Sherry Williams. ‘A few years ago, I was put on one of those Top Ten Celebrity Dads lists, and I wept when I saw it because I suddenly felt: “There, I made it right”.’