Crushed to death at a David Cassidy concert


Sunday 23 May 1999 00:02 BST

`The blessed David Cassidy, holy creation of the American television and publicity machines, has decided to renounce the throne at the tender age of 24 and stop being a sub-teenage idol," said the Guardian's pop critic on 27 May 1974. But his review of Cassidy's penultimate farewell concert, buried deep in the paper, began with an unfortunate turn of phrase: "Those who live by publicity shall die by publicity and there was a well- publicised death - of sorts - at the White City stadium last night." On the same day, the tabloids' front pages screamed "750 hurt at pop concert" (Sun) and "Weeny boppers in riot" (Mail). A few days later, 14-year-old fan Bernadette Whelan, who had been unconscious since the hysterical crush, became the first fatality at a British pop concert.

David Cassidy made his name on the US show The Partridge Family. As was to be expected of a pop-comedy concept from the Monkees stable, the "Family" released records, and their debut, "I Think I Love You", reached No 1 in 1970. Cassidy went solo in 1971 - though he stayed in the series - and had a No 1 with "Cherish". Then, after an "adult" interview and semi- naked photo shoot in Rolling Stone, his US sales plummeted.

When The Partridge Family was shown in the UK, Cassidy got a second chance at doing fresh-faced and squeaky-clean. Between 1972 and 1974, he notched up seven UK top 20 hits, including the No 1 "Daydreamer"/"The Puppy Song". Perfectly packaged, he met the screaming teens' dream criteria in the period between the Osmonds' heyday and the rise of the Bay City Rollers.

But in 1974, he announced he was to cease performing: concerts at Glasgow, White City and Manchester would be his last. "I feel burnt up inside," he told the Mail. "I'm 24, a big star ... in a position that millions dream of, but the truth is I just can't enjoy it." "Time to disappear to the drawing board for a grown-up image," interpreted the Guardian; "He's going back to the manufacturers for a refit," suggested Melody Maker.

Before the White City show, the tabloids ran photos of Cassidy besieged by hordes of fans in London. After, the pictures were of injured girls being hauled over barriers in front of the stage. The central section of the 35,000 crowd had surged forward when Cassidy appeared; many fainted, were trampled upon or were crushed. One St John Ambulance man said the scale of the injuries reminded him of the Blitz. The director of the British Safety Council called it a "suicide concert".

Cassidy considered cancelling his Manchester show on 28 May but, he told the Sun, he "was just allowing the exaggerated public to influence me". Only 8,000 of the expected 20,000 fans turned up: "The promoters said parents had returned tickets because of fears for their children's safety" (Times). In the end, six fans were taken to hospital.

Cassidy sent a letter of regret to Bernadette Whelan's parents on hearing of her death on 31 May. In an interview with the Sunday Times, he was asked about the tragedy: "He puts his hands on his heart. `Oh man', he says. `My first reaction was that I was totally brought down. I feel responsible and yet [pause] I don't feel responsible'." At the inquest, the coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death as a result of asphyxiation. He called her a "victim of contrived hysteria" and suggested that "trendy, high platform shoes" were a contributing factor in the number of girls who fell over in the throng.


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