David Cassidy knew his phone calls with Saralena Weinfield were being taped for the documentary about his life, on which she was the supervising producer.
“It was a way for us to get to know each other and to prepare for filming,” says Weinfield. “I asked him if I could start recording the calls, and I had a lot of calls with him over the course of working with him.”
The documentary would chronicle the 67-year-old former “Partridge Family” teen idol recording a tribute album to his late father, singer/actor Jack Cassidy. But it took a severe, unforeseen U-turn when Cassidy became gravely ill. Hospitalized, he shocked Weinfield by admitting over the phone that he was still drinking (despite previous repeated denials) — and that the dementia he’d publicly announced in February 2017 was caused by his chronic alcoholism.
Cassidy died in November 2017 from organ failure shortly after that phone call — which is included in “David Cassidy: The Last Session,” airing Monday night on A&E as part of the network’s “Biography” series.
“The audience is really hearing what I was hearing,” says Weinfield. “That was my first phone call with David [after he was hospitalized] and it was for me to check up on him and see how he was doing. I was surprised he wanted to go there and talk so openly about it,” she says of Cassidy’s admission. “[His alcoholism] wasn’t something we addressed in the course of filming — we knew his history, of course. I think David was … taking stock of his life and this is what he wanted to put out there about his life.”
It’s a life sensitively chronicled in “The Last Session,” which starts with Cassidy, barely able to walk and with obvious memory and speech issues, in a Chicago studio to record the tribute album (“Songs My Father Taught Me,” released posthumously). It’s September 2017 and, as Cassidy talks openly, it’s obvious that his relationship with Jack Cassidy (who died in 1976) was extremely rocky — even before Jack married actress Shirley Jones, who went on to play David’s mother on “The Partridge Family.”
“The Last Session” follows Cassidy inside and outside the studio (he visits a neuropsychologist and undergoes a brain scan); archival footage (screaming fans, concerts, women fainting) and a series of revealing 1976 interviews Cassidy did with Elliott Mintz highlight his anguish at being a teen idol not respected for his musical chops.
“This story is so much more than the circumstances surrounding David’s passing,” Weinfield says. “It’s really about a man who wanted to be taken seriously as an artist, the nature of celebrity and the relationship between a father and son. We really set out to make a complex, nuanced portrait [of David] and to show him in a way he wanted to be known.”
Weinfield is asked if producers thought about scrapping the documentary after Cassidy’s death. “Honestly, we struggled with whether to continue the documentary and had lots of conversations and phone calls about it,” she says. “We really had to take stock. Ultimately, David wanted this to be a three-dimensional portrait of him — he kept talking about that — and we felt that almost as a way of honoring his passing we had to move forward and show him in a complex light.
“I hope people see him as the complete figure he was,” she says. “We grew to like him so much and had so much respect for him as a person and as an artist.”
Date Posted: Saturday, June 9th, 2018 , Total Page Views: 941
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