Why David Cassidy Bared All for Annie Leibovitz’s Cover Photo Shoot
David Cassidy, the musician, actor and Partridge Family teen idol, died Tuesday at the age of 67. Earlier in the year, Cassidy revealed that he was battling the early stages of dementia, an illness both his mother and grandfather suffered from. Cassidy’s admission came after video emerged of the singer struggling to remember lyrics and stumbling around the stage during a California concert.
“I was in denial, but a part of me always knew this was coming,” Cassidy said of the diagnosis, which forced him to cease touring. “I want to focus on what I am, who I am and how I’ve been without any distractions. I want to love. I want to enjoy life.” It was the final chapter of a career that began when he was a teenager and has left many around the world grieving for the former teen idol. Rolling Stone‘s history with Cassidy is well-known due to an infamous cover story with a photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz that showed the pop star naked, shocking many of his young fans.
In 1972, David Cassidy was faced with an interesting dilemma. The 22-year-old had a hit television series, The Partridge Family, and was selling out arenas across the country to legions of teenage girls. “At the time, I had the largest fan club in history,” Cassidy said. And yet the pop star – in real life an unreconstructed hippie who had knocked around San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district when he was seventeen, idolized Hendrix and done his share of “grass and speed and psychedelics” – felt increasingly constricted by his bubblegum image.
That’s where Rolling Stone came in. “It was a very conscious decision to shed his image and become hip,” recalls Robin Green, who wrote Cassidy’s controversial 1972 cover story. However much Cassidy hoped to shake up his career, Green’s hilarious article may have been more than he bargained for. The piece details five days on the road with the young star, during which he smokes pot, encounters bisexual groupies, talks about the “sticky seats” left by his excited fans and impersonates an interviewer: “‘Being as you have an influence on young folks today, what advice do you have for them about drugs?’ Aw, shit, man, take drugs.”
“I thought it was a very good piece,” Cassidy later told Rolling Stone in 2006 while he was on tour, though he insists, “I wasn’t getting high at the time. If I did it, I’d tell you. But I wasn’t.” (Counters Green: “I’m not sure why I would’ve put that in if he hadn’t been doing it. Maybe he didn’t inhale.”)
Perhaps even more controversial than the text was Leibovitz’s cover shot in which a nude Cassidy lies on his back in the grass, the barest tuft of pubic hair visible just below his navel, next to the headline “Naked Lunch Box.”
“I didn’t tell my management I was doing that,” Cassidy said. “They went insane. We shot it at my house in Los Angeles.”
Adds Leibovitz: “People always ask me, ‘Where’s the picture of his penis?’ I never shot that far down. He implied that he wanted me to perform some sex act on him. I didn’t get it at the time. Then I realized he was asking, ‘Can I get some help over here?'”
The fallout from the issue was, as Cassidy himself puts it, “seismic.” Coca-Cola pulled its sponsorship of a Cassidy television special. The network suits went ballistic. Cassidy fled to Hawaii. “He did this thing he really shouldn’t have done and got into deep trouble for it,” says Leibovitz. “In retrospect, I feel sad. But since the shoot, I’ve seen him on a couple of occasions, and he thanked me because he said it moved him on. He desperately wanted to get off the show and he sort of committed professional suicide to get out of his contract. That ended one period of his career.”