Jack Cassidy

Jack Cassidy Headshot

Actor • Singer • Theater Director

Birth Date: March 5, 1927

Death Date: December 12, 1976

Birth Place: Richmond Hill, New York

Spouses: Shirley Jones

Children: David Cassidy, Shaun Cassidy, Ryan Cassidy

Grandchildren: Katie Cassidy

A star of stage and television for over two decades, actor Jack Cassidy embodied the vainglorious, self-absorbed side of his profession in a series of Tony-winning and Emmy-nominated turns that made him a much-loved performer until his tragic death. Cassidy's rich, mellifluous voice and fair-haired good looks made him a popular leading man on Broadway in the late 1940s and early '50s, where he met his first wife, dancer Evelyn Ward, who would give birth to their son, future pop star David Cassidy.

While appearing in a production of "Oklahoma!" Cassidy met Shirley Jones, who became his second wife and mother to sons Shaun, Patrick and Ryan, who would all follow in their parents' showbiz footsteps. Television gave Cassidy his biggest showcase, and he would net an Emmy nod for his turn as an egotistical actor on the critically acclaimed "He & She" (CBS, 1967-68). His performance set the tone for future, more substantive roles in features and television, though personal problems, including bouts with alcoholism and mental illness, began to erode his career in the mid-1970s.

Cassidy remained active on the small screen until late 1976, when a fire in his West Hollywood apartment claimed his life. He left behind an acclaimed body of work in three mediums, as well as a cache of amusing and accomplished performances that underscored his status as one of the busiest and most appreciated actors of his generation.

Born John Joseph Cassidy on March 5, 1927 in Richmond Hill, NY, Jack Cassidy was one of five children born to immigrants William Cassidy, who hailed from Ireland, and his German wife, Charlotte. Like many children of the Depression, Cassidy spent his formative years working in a variety of menial labor jobs to help support his large family.

But he developed an interest in performing from an uncle who had been a circus contortionist, and by his mid-teens, Cassidy had made his Broadway debut as a member of the chorus in the Cole Porter musical "Something for the Boys" (1943). Larger supporting roles on stage preceded his marriage to dancer-choreographer Evelyn Ward, with whom he had a son, David, in 1950. Three years later, Cassidy made his debut as a leading man in the Tony-winning musical "Wish You Were Here" (1953), which was soon followed by a star-making turn as an Irish immigrant in the play "Sandhog" (1954). Blessed with matinee idol looks and a rich, baritone voice, he was a leading man of choice for high-profile musicals, including a 1955 State Department European tour of "Oklahoma!" which cast him opposite a young actress named Shirley Jones.

The pair soon fell in love, and after divorcing Ward, Cassidy asked Jones to marry him between acts of a 1956 production of "The Beggar's Opera." Their first son, Shaun, was born in 1958, shortly before Cassidy reprised his turn in "Wish You Were Here" for a 1959 production co-starring Jones. The couple would produce two more sons, Patrick and Ryan, all of whom would pursue entertainment careers to varying degrees of success in the 1970s and beyond.

By this time, he had also begun to make forays into television, most notably in live anthologies before becoming a staple of episodic series. Cassidy's theatrical demeanor made him ideal for urbane, larger-than-life personas, especially those with a highly inflated ego. He had begun playing such roles on Broadway, winning a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor as a suave ladies' man in "She Loves Me" (1963), and would continue to reap Tony nods for similar roles in "Fade Out/Fade In" (1964), as a jealous columnist who vied with Clark Kent for the hand of Lois Lane in "It's a Bird It's a Plane It's Superman" (1966) and later as a roguish Irish actor opposite Jones in "Maggie Jones" (1969), which won him his second Tony Award.

On television, Cassidy earned an Emmy nomination for "He & She" as a supremely self-confident actor in a fictional television series who made life miserable for Richard Benjamin, who had created the cartoon on which the program was based, and his wife, played by Benjamin's real-life spouse, Paula Prentiss. The role and his screen persona would later inspire the creators of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-1977) to fashion the character of vain TV announcer Ted Baxter with Cassidy in mind. He turned down the role, which gave veteran actor Ted Knight with a sizable career boost, though he would play Baxter's equally vain brother in a 1971 episode of the series.

A second Emmy nod came for a dramatic turn in George C. Scott's TV-movie adaptation of "The Andersonville Trial" (PBS, 1971). The high-profile honors gave Cassidy's screen career a boost, which he parlayed into appearances in feature films like "The Eiger Sanction" (1975), which cast him as the main villain opposite Clint Eastwood, and "W.C. and Me" (1976), in which he played another highly theatrical stage performer, the legendary John Barrymore.

During this period, he also enjoyed leading roles on television, most notably as a disfigured actor plaguing a venerable film studio in "The Phantom of Hollywood" (CBS, 1974) and several "Columbo" (NBC, 1968-1978/CBS, 1989-2003), in which he matched wits with Peter Falk's rumpled but shrewd detective. He also enjoyed a successful run as a nightclub performer in a musical show with Jones called "The Marriage Band" (1972). But Cassidy's rise in popularity also coincided with the emergence of several serious problems that would undo both his career and personal life.

He was an unchecked alcoholic who displayed increasingly odd behavior in public, including a 1974 incident in which neighbors discovered him watering his front lawn while fully naked. A similar incident, in which Jones claimed that Cassidy had proclaimed himself Jesus Christ, led to a 1974 hospitalization in a psychiatric facility for bipolar disorder. Jones filed for divorce that same year, though Cassidy would frequently express remorse for the split in subsequent interviews.

During this period, Cassidy's sons, David and Shaun, had also vaulted to the top of their professions as pop stars and TV performers on "The Partridge Family" (ABC, 1970-74) and "The Hardy Boys Mysteries" (ABC, 1977-79), while the momentum generated by his early '70s roles had begun to wane. However, he remained active on television until 1976, when he died in a fire that broke out in his top floor apartment in a West Hollywood, CA building he owned.

Cassidy had returned to his apartment in the early morning hours and fallen asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand, which set fire to his couch and eventually the entire apartment. His charred remains were found near the front door of the apartment, where it was assumed that he had attempted to escape before succumbing to lack of oxygen and thermal burns. In 2005, Cassidy was posthumously approved for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which required fundraising efforts to complete. By Paul Gaita

Credits

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Actor
Damon Runyon
Movie
1978

Circus of the Stars

Self
Ringmaster
Show
1977

Benny and Barney: Las Vegas Undercover

Actor
Jules Rosen
Movie
1977

Dean's Place

Guest
Show
1976

Colombo: L'illusionista

Actor
Santini
Movie
1976

W.C. Fields and Me

Actor
John Barrymore
Movie
1976

Columbo : Tout n'est qu'illusion

Actor
Movie
1976

Dean's Place

Guest
Show
1975

The Eiger SanctionStream

Actor
Miles Mellough
Movie
1975
67%

Mrs. R

Actor
Chico Donovan
Movie
1975

Colombo: Un killer venuto dal Vietnam

Actor
Riley Greenleaf
Movie
1974

The Phantom of Hollywood

Actor
Otto Vonner/Karl Vonner
Movie
1974

Barnaby JonesStream

Guest Star
Series
1973

Fools, Females and Fun

Actor
Danny Holliday
Movie
1973

A Time for Love

Actor
Movie
1973

Your Money or Your Wife

Actor
Josh Darwin
Movie
1972

ColumboStream

Guest Star
The Great Santini
Series
1971
84%

Cannon

Guest Star
Gen. James O'Hara
Series
1971

Powder Room

Actor
Star
Show
1971

Alias Smith and Jones

Guest Star
Series
1971

Columbo: le livre témoin

Actor
Movie
1971

Colombo: Un giallo da manuale

Actor
Ken Franklin
Movie
1971

Bunny O'Hare

Actor
Lieutenant Greeley
Movie
1971

Night Gallery

Actor
Series
1970

Night Gallery

Guest Star
Series
1970

The Mary Tyler Moore ShowStream

Guest Star
Hal Baxter
Series
1970

McCloud

Guest Star
Lord Charles Bridges
Series
1970

Andersonville Trial

Actor
Otis Baker
Show
1970

Annie, the Women in the Life of a Man

Actor
Show
1970

George M!

Actor
Jeremiah "Jerry" Cohan
Movie
1970

The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico CountyStream

Actor
Roger Hand
Movie
1970

Love, American Style

Actor
Chuck Fuller
Series
1969

The Governor & J.J.

Guest Star
Mark Ellison
Show
1969

Jack Cassidy's St. Patrick's Day Special

Actor
Star
Show
1969

Mod Squad

Guest Star
Perry Lemko
Series
1968

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-InStream

Guest
Variety Show
1968

The Carol Burnett ShowStream

Guest
Variety Show
1967

He & She

Actor
Oscar North
Show
1967

The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.Stream

Guest Star
Series
1966
10%

That GirlStream

Guest Star
Series
1966

The John Gary Show

Self
Show
1966

Get SmartStream

Guest Star
Series
1965

I SpyStream

Guest Star
Series
1965

BewitchedStream

Guest Star
Rance Butler
Series
1964

The Lucy ShowStream

Guest Star
Series
1962

Alfred Hitchcock HourStream

Actor
Series
1962

The Chapman ReportStream

Actor
Ted Dyson
Movie
1962

Mister Magoo's Christmas CarolStream

Voice
Bob Cratchit
Movie
1962

Look in Any Window

Actor
Gareth Lowell
Movie
1961

Surfside 6

Guest Star
Series
1960

Hawaiian Eye

Guest Star
Series
1959

BonanzaStream

Guest Star
Series
1959

77 Sunset Strip

Guest Star
Dick Arnador
Series
1958

Bronco

Guest Star
Series
1958

Wagon TrainStream

Guest Star
Dan Palmer
Series
1957

Alfred Hitchcock PresentsStream

Actor
Mark Lansing
Series
1955

GunsmokeStream

Guest Star
Marcus France
Series
1955

Marshal Dillon

Guest Star
Show
1955

What's My Line?Stream

Guest
Game Show
1950

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