I know I have the power to whip audiences into a frenzy, but I never will—it’s sick.” That was Shaun Cassidy’s vow as he came into his fame, first with TV’s Hardy Boys and then as a soft-rocker last year. But now that he’s taken his show on the road, he cracks (in the words of his Joe Hardy character): “Well, it’s a rotten job but somebody has to do it.” The line—like his act—is meant to be good clean fun.
The house lights fade, a spot hits the stage, an announcer booms, “Ladies and gentlemen, SHAUN CASSIDY!” The band slams deafeningly into “That’s Rock’n’Roll.” The nonstop shrieking of 20,000 ladies and gents (mostly in their preteens) goes beyond the pain threshold as a Presleyesque figure wriggles in silhouette behind a translucent hoop. “Come on, everybody!” he sings. Then Shaun Cassidy shazams through the paper screen, smoke bombs erupt onstage and a thousand flashbulbs crackle like heat lightning in the squealing, sobbing, swooning mob. Cassidy vaults and grinds (at about the PG level) for the next 90 minutes until his 19-year-old body glistens with sweat. As the band thunders through “Da Doo Ron Ron”, his first hit single, Cassidy races singing and waving down a backstage ramp—straight into a waiting limousine. The doors slam shut and, while the music throbs on, the limo burns rubber out of the auditorium. The lights come up, and the fans sit, stunned and drained. Shaun Cassidy has made another getaway.
The concert road (or the middle of it) has suddenly become one vast Shaunpike. Even though the network is upping his weekly Hardy Boys take to $15,000, it’s like a Cassidy subsidy to that rival showbiz conglomerate, ABC. Shaun’s first two LPs moved more than five million copies. Sales of booklets, wristwatches, pajamas, lunch boxes and posters propelled his earnings into seven figures last year, and it’s just the beginning. Two more albums are coming and the first leg of his ’78 concert tour grossed more than $1 million in two weeks. The real hysteria is ahead.
In Denver he had to disguise himself as a cop and drive a squad car through the crush. In St. Louis he was mobbed after kids suicidally pressed in front of the slowed limo for a better look. After that last incident, the usually unflappable Cassidy retreated to his dressing room, burying his head in his hands. “Being on the road and having limos, airplanes and a whole support system of people can be very disorienting,” he understates. “I see how it can twist someone around.”
Shaun could have been talking about his older half brother, David, now 28, who spun off his Partridge Family TV hit into a comparably dizzying five-year pop career. Then it ended abruptly in 1974 when a 14-year-old English girl died after a concert crush. “It was all very instructive to me,” says Shaun, who served as best man last year when David married actress Kay Lenz. “Some people have a moment of glory and can spend the rest of their lives wondering where the crowds have gone.”
Though Shaun loyally defends his brother’s career eclipse (“He spent some time reassessing where he wanted to go; now he’s ready to act and record again”), the boys are distinctly different. David had been in therapy in his teens and experimented with grass, speed and psychedelics. Shaun sometimes picks up a Marlboro like a pacifier, but his only real vice is an occasional Coors and a preperformance hit of Southern Comfort. In one of his own compositions, “It’s Up to You”, he even admonishes his fans, “Now you know I’m really glad/I listened to my Mom and Dad.” As a result Cassidy may be the only pop star whose junior high fans send him their report cards for approval.
“That kid is magic, dynamite,” says his guitarist Jimmy George. “He does everything with love. I don’t know anyone his age who is more together. When you’ve been around rock for awhile,” says George, who last traveled with the Beach Boys, “you forget people can have that kind of decency.”
“I know my mother would be disappointed in me if I got to thinking I am more important than anyone else just because of the business I’m in,” says Shaun. The mom who instilled such modesty, Shirley (Partridge Family) Jones, Shaun remembers, “knew everything my brothers and I were doing and gave love, guidance and discipline.” His father, actor Jack Cassidy, “could really blow people away who didn’t know him. But he was straight with me.” (His parents were divorced in 1975, and Shaun was best man at his mother’s marriage last year to agent Marty Ingels.) His father’s accidental death in an apartment fire in December 1976 left his young son shaken. “The biggest disappointment in my life was that my father never got to hear me perform. I think he would have been proud of what I’ve accomplished, but he would think the way I try to handle things is even more important.”
Exiled to an Eastern boarding school during a brief rebellion at 14, Shaun returned to graduate from Beverly Hills High two years ago. College, and even extension courses at UCLA, will have to wait until he cashes in on the family business awhile. David Jolliffe—a former star of TV’s Room 222 turned Cassidy’s percussionist, backup vocalist, roomie and best friend—explains: “It was like when Shaun was 18 he said to himself, ‘Okay, now it’s time to be famous.’ Not in a conceited way,” Jolliffe adds. “Everyone in his family is famous. It was just time to go to work. His little brothers will do the same thing.” Shaun reports that 16-year-old Patrick “is already into music and coming right behind me.” As for Ryan, 12, “He’s going to be a star. He’s Mr. Personality.”
Cassidy debuted in a Sunset Strip band when he was 14, and his records sold originally in Europe. But in his first acting audition, arranged by agent Ruth Aarons, he lost the kid’s role in John Wayne’s The Shootist to Ron Howard. His second shot was The Hardy Boys. That it led to a pilot, much less a series, left Shaun surprised and a little ambivalent. Likewise his co-star Parker Stevenson, a 25-year-old Princeton alum. Reports Cassidy: “We both feel the same frustrations.” That means lame scripts as well as low ratings opposite 60 Minutes. But ABC has renewed the show anyway, if only to spoil any raids by another network, and that leaves Shaun indentured to a contract. Meanwhile he has signed a TV special deal with NBC that once threatened to make the Farrah Fawcett-Majors litigation look like small-claims court.
Clearly, like precursor Ricky Nelson, Shaun’s future is in rock, however soft. After all, it’s the omnipresent music, not TV, fans who are forcing him to consider moving from behind the newly installed electric gate of his modest, two-bedroom Beverly Glen pad into “a house with a larger, fenced yard.” Last summer, feeling besieged, Shaun lapsed into an atypical “depression. I got to feeling I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything normally. But I snapped out of it. You can’t be a hermit.” His one companion at home is his 19th birthday present from Mom—a golden Lab he named “Son” and won’t allow to be photographed for fear of dognappers.
Though his companions include Carrie (Star Wars) Fisher, there’s no special lady. He will say only that “I had a girlfriend once, but I had no time for the relationship. When I find the right person, I’ll make time for her.” A dining room hostess he met on tour in Baton Rouge, La. later joined him for gigs in Oklahoma and Kansas but reported afterward, “I never got to know him well…in anyway. We never had a minute alone.” When Shaun and his pals scout local discos, sometimes with police escorts, he pairs off with someone’s sister to ward off predatory females, not to mention their jealous and ornery boyfriends. At press conferences, he is inevitably buttonholed about Marie Osmond. Though he’s never met her, the sardonic Shaun recalls, “One day I gave up and said, ‘Ah, it was just one wild night.’ They printed it as a straight quote.”
Professionally, the deals Shaun is scoring get bigger and bigger. Beside more albums and TV, there’s a possible two-movie deal with Columbia’s Ray Stark. His next 19-city concert conquest begins in June, reaping more megabucks to invest in shopping centers. Lately, Shaun is talking of moving beyond performing into producing. If it all seems like a dream, Shaun is the first to admit it. “Sure, this bubble will burst, and I’ll burst it when it’s time,” he says confidently. “I’ve been around show business a long time and I know it’s ephemeral. It’s Disneyland. It’s not the real world.” But, he continues, “I’m not a victim of anything. I’m a person who has had a certain success in business, and I’m trying not to make a big deal out of it. People who do not understand that this is a fantasy business get crazy.”