There are few things more fascinating than the meteoric rise and incredible fall of a celebrity – and there are few better examples than that of Susan Dey. She first became a star on The Partridge Family, where she and the rest of the fictional family’s members made music, learned lessons and had plenty of laughs together. While each had their own plans, Dey used the show to catapult her into acting superstardom. She only partially succeeded, and her 34-year career in showbiz has definitely left a mark on her…
Susan Dey has been out of the limelight for a number of years now, but in her heyday, she was one of the most sought-after actresses of her time.
Her four seasons of playing the character Laurie Partridge in ‘The Partridge Family’ shot the young actress to fame. With acting roles coming in left, right, and center it didn’t take long for Dey to become a household name. She was at the peak of her career until one day she just disappeared out of the limelight…
Susan Hallock Dey was born on December 10, 1952, in Illinois. Her father was Robert Smith Dey who was working for a newspaper before moving the family to New York to progress in his job.
Her mother was Ruth Dey who tragically passed away when Susan was just eight years old. The death took a huge toll on the young star, but luckily, with the support of her father, they were able to help each other as they grieved.
Dey attended school in New York where she graduated from high school in 1970. At age 15 Dey began modeling, but it never came to anything significant for her.
It was the year that she graduated when she was offered a role that would change her life forever. At just 17 years old Susan Dey was cast to play the role of Laurie Partridge in ‘The Partridge Family.’ The show revolved around a family that wanted to make it in the music world after they formed a band together.
The young actress was thrown in at the deep end after she was cast as one of the starring roles on the show.
Dey had no previous acting experience – she hadn’t even attended any acting classes or theater schools in her childhood. However, Dey wasn’t going to let this stop her as she got hands-on experience and developed her acting skills on the job. The role would go on to pave an incredible career for the young star.
The show was a huge success for the cast as many of them went on to have their own music careers. However, the final season of the show was aired at a new time slot that was competing with a rival series at the same time.
It couldn’t stand up to the competition, and the ratings soon began to drop. Even though in the U.S. it was becoming less popular, its popularity grew in the UK which saw the cast get several top 20 hits over the pond.
Struggles of an actress
Sadly, after Susan Dey landed the role as a member of the Partridge family the influx of fame was too much for her to handle at the time.
The young actress was just 18 when she got the part, and the attention in Hollywood led her to restrict her diet so she could remain as slim as possible. Dey’s low point was when she weighed as little as 92 lbs. Apparently, the star used to have orange fingers from the number of carrots she was consuming.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Luckily for Dey, she realized the extreme lengths she had gone to before it was too late.
The switch was flicked when she turned up in a bathing suit for one of the scenes on set, but Danny Bonaduce had a reaction far from admiration; he was shocked at the figure that stood before him. Seeing the young actor’s face caused Dey to see the error of her ways, so she began to adopt healthier eating habits in a bid to turn her life around.
Dey has publicly spoken about her time dealing with the eating disorder in more recent years when she was finally able to come to terms with what she had gone through.
Dey reported that during the show she was stuck between the world of still being a child while being treated like an adult. The conflicts between her relationships with people meant she struggled to find control in her life so she controlled what she could – her eating. Thankfully Susan Dey says she has now fully recovered from the ordeal.
While on the show Dey tried her hand at several musical talents, such as being a singer, playing the piano, and getting involved in the harmonies.
While she was not the only actor involved in the singing on the show, one cast member had plenty to say about the vocals. Shirley Jones certainly wasn’t singing the casts’ praises as she stated the only person that had a voice good enough for the show was her real-life stepson, David Cassidy. According to Shirley, no one else should have been allowed to sing – ouch.
In 1972 Susan Dey made her movie debut when ‘Skyjacked’ was released on the big screen.
The movie was based on a novel that was released in 1970 and followed the spate of airplane hijackings that took place for over a decade in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The rights to the novel were bought, and Dey was cast as Elly Brewster. The disaster film got a good reception at the box office, as well as even being one of the biggest hits for MGM in the year of its release.
Unfortunately, the declining audience number for ‘The Partridge Family’ meant that ABC was unable to keep it going. The show was canceled after four seasons.
Throughout its time the cast was able to record 96 episodes, as well as release eight albums, and gain an impressive, loyal following. The network ‘Nickelodeon’ picked up the show in 1993 and showed reruns of the episodes for the next year, with a massive advertising campaign that even had a recreation of the famous school bus from the show.
‘Partridge Family 2200 A.D.’ was released following the finale of the original show in 1974. It only had one season and was canceled the following year because the ratings for the spinoff were a complete disaster.
The show was aired on Saturday mornings, but the audience failed to fall in love with the new animated cast. Dey was involved with voicing her character, Laurie, but only for two episodes as she was replaced by another actress for the next 14 episodes. Awkward!
Susan Dey met her first husband Lenny Hirshan as he was working as her agent. There was a 25 year age gap between the two, but they fell in love and were married in 1976.
The pair had a daughter together, named Sarah, who was born during 1978. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last as the couple ended up getting divorced in 1981, after less than five years together. Now Dey was left husband-less as well as agent-less, but it wasn’t long before she was offered another incredible role.
It is rumored that the actual reason the marriage between Susan and Lenny broke down was because of the actress’ drinking problems.
It was reported at the time that Susan was suffering from her addiction, forcing Lenny to feel unable to stay. In the early ‘90s, Susan spoke publicly for the first time of her drinking issues after a tabloid sent an informant into one of her AA meetings. Susan was outraged they had leaked such a private portion of her life stating she wanted them to know nothing more.
More movie success
Susan Dey set about expanding her acting repertoire as she was cast to play the leading role in ‘Mary Jane Harper Cried Last Night’ in 1977.
The film was so well received it won a Golden Globe Award, with Dey bringing the character of a struggling mother suffering from personal issues to life. The same year Dey also starred in ‘First Love,’ a romance movie that meant she was able to act alongside William Katt.
Continuing to act
Following the success of her latest films, Susan Dey was offered role after role in both movies and television shows.
She not only starred in ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Comeback Kid,’ but Dey also managed to get a long-standing role in the series ‘Emerald Point N.A.S.’ which featured her in 22 episodes. Various other roles were just the build-up to Susan Dey’s next big break as she was destined for the second biggest role of her acting career.
Playing the law
In 1986 Susan Dey was offered a role of a lifetime when she met the co-creator of the show ‘L.A. Law’ at a school picnic for their children.
The show was a legal drama that was praised for accurately portraying the lawyers of America. Dey took on the role of Grace Van Owen, a character who started as a district attorney but later worked her way up to become a judge. The show was a huge success with critics raving about the portrayal of the characters from all the cast members.
Dey’s role of Grace Van Owen would see her nominated for several different awards. She even managed to clinch the win of a Golden Globe in 1988 for the best performance by an actress in a television drama series.
Dey was one of thirteen actors and actresses that won an award for the show, leaving her feeling incredibly thrilled at her achievement. This was also the first of just two awards that Dey would win over her acting career.
Exit stage left
In 1992 Susan Dey left the show after the finale of the sixth season. The actress had chosen to leave after finding she was bored of her onscreen romance with the character Michael Kuzak, that was played by actor Harry Hamlin.
The writers agreed that the romance was due to come to an end, but with their distrust that they may be written back together, the two actors came to a deal that if the script tried to reunite them, they would both walk away. And so they did!
Second time lucky
On February 20, 1988, Susan Dey and Bernard Sofronski got married. The couple shared an incredibly private ceremony to which they only invited their very close friends and family.
Bernard had been working as a television producer when the couple met, and he was incredibly successful at his job during the late ‘80s. The couple have been married for nearly three decades now; they both appear to be just as in love as when they first met too.
Saturday Night Live
For a unique episode in 1992, Susan Dey guest hosted for the show ‘Saturday Night Live.’
The show featured a segment that pitted the Partridge family against the equally as famous television family the Brady Bunch. The show also featured plenty of sketches starring the actress who drew a huge crowd to see her host the show. The skits included appearances from Mike Myers, as well as a terrific monologue given by Dey.
Over the next decade, Susan Dey constantly worked as she starred in many television movies. Some of the most notable were ‘Bed of Lies,’ ‘Deadly Love,’ and ‘Blue River.’
She also starred in the first season of ‘Love and War’, but her role came to a quick end after there were disputes on set. The producers fired Dey as they claimed she and the leading man had no chemistry on screen. She was replaced, and the show continued for two more seasons.
Dey’s big television show was so popular amongst the audience that the cast were able to convince the network of ‘L.A. Law’ to purchase a television movie they could all star in a catch up after the finale.
The film did just that and was released in 2002 where it revisited the old law firm, as well as seeing the main cast return. The movie was a relative success as the critics were happy to see the characters after nearly a decade off-screen.
Final movie role
During 2003 the big screen saw Susan Dey’s last appearance in ‘Rain.’ The actress played Diane Davis in one of the starring roles in this war film.
There were mixed reviews of the film which followed the story of a German Shepherd, named Rain, that was drafted into the army. The reports spoke of how the movie contained a good storyline but had inaccuracies that were hard to overlook. It was a shame to see Dey leave the world of movies with such a disappointing film.
Final television show
The final television show Susan Dey appeared in was over a decade ago when she played Dr. Beene in ‘Third Watch,’ back in 2004.
Going back to her law days, Dey took on a role in the crime drama series that was set around New York City. Although she only appeared in two episodes, Dey officially retired from acting after her character on the show. She hasn’t been in any production since and hasn’t got anything in the works either.
More than 40 years after the original series aired the cast of ‘The Partridge Family’ were reunited once more as they filmed a special reunion show in 2010.
The original cast got back together, and the special featured them all grown up on the ‘Today Show.’ This special also saw several famous television families come back together after so many years apart. However, in the cast line up there was one famous face that was missing…
Susan Dey admitted that during the filming of the show she had feelings towards her castmate David Cassidy.
However, David never reciprocated the feelings that Susan felt, so never acted on a relationship until the show had finished airing in 1974. The pair began dating, but their relationship only lasted a few months. Apparently other cast mates had warned Susan to stay away from the star as they thought it would end badly, but she refused to listen.
Ending in tears
The relationship appeared to be doomed from the beginning as David was constantly being mobbed by adoring fans, including some even breaking into his hotel room or his car to wait for him.
The pressure was too much and forced the young couple to break up. However, it wasn’t the breakup that caused friction between them; it was David’s autobiography years later. David spoke in great detail about what had happened during their time together; Susan wasn’t happy about the descriptions, and the pair haven’t spoken since!
“She wouldn’t listen to my advice”
In fact, their TV mom, Shirley Jones, knew about Dey’s feelings towards Cassidy and said that Cassidy wasn’t sensitive enough and kept on hurting her feelings.
In her memoir Jones wrote: “She (Dey) had a great big crush on David, and he didn’t reciprocate her. David saw Susan as the sister he had never had.” She added: “Throughout the series, Dey continued to be crazy about David, but he didn’t handle her emotions for him particularly well or sensitively. She wouldn’t listen to my advice to stay away from David, and I found myself warning her over and over against getting involved with him.”
No reunions here
Dey has never appeared in any of the reunions for ‘The Partridge Family’ because she knew that David Cassidy would be there.
After the fiasco with the autobiography, she had admitted that she couldn’t bring herself to be near him. Surprisingly David has spoken of how hurt he is, as they would all love for Dey to return one day. Perhaps one day they will be able to put their feelings behind them, but for now, it seems as though the show will go on without her.
Loss of a friend
In 2015 Susan Dey lost one of her close friends and co-stars from ‘The Partridge Family’ show as Suzanne Crough tragically passed away.
Crough had been suffering from an incredibly rare heart condition before her death, but her passing affected the fellow castmates of the show deeply. Crough had played the youngest of the siblings and her and Dey had grown close during their time on the show, especially as they often shared scenes together. Just as Dey has, Crough decided to stay out of the media in her later life.
Foot into modeling
Susan wasn’t the only member of her family to start her career modeling. In fact, her sister, Leslie, joined Susan after their step-mother, Gail, had read an article in the famous ‘Seventeen’ magazine about how to begin a life of modeling fashion lines.
Gail submitted pictures of both of her step-daughters to a local agency in New York who fell in love with their looks and picked them up straight away. The company sent the contract through, and it was then that Susan was able to begin her career.
The cast often enjoyed a fun time on the set of ‘The Partridge Show’, but they had to put up with the runaway hijinks of their costar Danny Bonaduce.
The star had a difficult upbringing as he was dealing with personal issues at home, so the other members on set often let him get away with everything. However, one day his antics were too much as the other actors convinced Susan Dey to pour milk over his head – something that made its way into the show after it caught the director’s attention.
The audience may have been left with some déjà vu as they watched the show, especially the scenes showing the outside of the family’s home.
This is because it wasn’t the only time the house made its appearance on television. The same home was famously used to house the neighbors in ‘Bewitched’, as well as on shows such as ‘I Dream of Jeannie’, ‘The Donna Reed Show’, and ‘Dennis the Menace’. Reese Witherspoon also used the location for part of her movie ‘Pleasantville’.
There have been plenty of memorabilia items produced for ‘The Partridge Family’ show, especially around its release in 1970.
The list included the usual lunchboxes and thermos flasks, as well as dolls of the characters, TV Guides, annuals, and card sets found in chewing gum packets. One of the most famous pieces released was a board game based on the show. The game was (and still is for any avid fan) a huge hit as players spiral around the board until they find the famous bus in the middle.
It may be an idea to go out and purchase some cheap memorabilia for any favorite shows on television as they certainly paid off for anyone that had some Partridge family collectibles.
A collection of 198 chewing gum cards sold for over $245, a Laurie Partridge doll still in its box went for $250, and an original toy version of their bus that was still in the original box went for more than $1400! Be careful though as some of the items only sold for around $35.
The show didn’t manage to keep themselves an innocent image as the producers were accused of stealing money right out of the pockets of the actors.
The production company, Screen Gems (now Sony), was using the success of the actors to make themselves millions. As everyone, including Susan Dey, had initially been signed to a contract that meant they only earned their salary when the show blew up they didn’t get a look in at any of the extra cash coming in. The worst affected of them all was David Cassidy.
After her exit from The Partridge Family, Susan received plenty of acting opportunities over the years, including a special guest role on ‘Hawaii Five-O’ during 1975 where she played Susan Bradshaw.
The plot for the show revolved entirely around Dey’s character as she accidentally found herself caught up in an organized crime. Her character is in big trouble, but Dey is able to win over the audience as she enlists the help of the police force.
No grease here
Over the years Susan Dey has been offered plenty of starring roles. Her diverse acting skills, her confidence on camera, and her captivating looks meant that she was highly sought after.
However, there may be one role that Dey turned down that she lived to regret. Before Olivia Newton-John got the role as Sandy in ‘Grease’ the part was actually offered to Susan! She turned it down but thankfully didn’t need the film’s success as she was already living a thriving career.
Fighting over roles
‘Grease’ wasn’t the first time Olivia Newton-John and Susan Dey had crossed paths. Eight years before the hit movie was released, the Partridge Family nearly had a different Laurie as Olivia was originally offered the chance – the star actress even accepted the part!
However, Olivia’s manager spoke to the actress and convinced her to turn it down as they felt the role wouldn’t be worthwhile – oh how wrong they were. Perhaps swapping roles became a thing for the two girls to do!
Big role for a small woman
During 1978 Dey starred in another remake of the classic ‘Little Women’. The movie was initially meant to be the pilot for what would become a TV series, but it never developed into such, so the production team was left with a movie lasting over three hours.
Dey played the leading role as she had so desperately fought for the chance after she wanted to break away from her innocent image of Laurie Partridge. Dey fought off Meredith Baxter, who went on to play Meg, for the role of Josephine.
Before her epic comeback in ‘L.A. Law’, Dey was involved in ‘Echo Park’ during 1986. The low budget movie was her first film role for five years.
Dey played the role of May, a young woman that was aspiring to become an actress as she continued to work as a waitress while waiting for her big break. Dey reported that while she and the character had differing beginnings to their careers, they both went through enormous struggles which she feels she was able to bring to life.
‘I Love You Perfect’ not only starred the young actress in 1989, but it also saw Dey able to give a role behind the camera a go. This is because Dey was given an opportunity to co-produce the television movie herself.
The movie was a huge success as the critics and audience both loved it as it follows Susan’s character, her partner, and their friend as they have a journey through misdiagnosed illness, proving how strong their love is for each other.
Susan Dey definitely knew how to use her acting to chameleon into any role which she once again proved in 1989 when she took on a comedy role in a short for ‘That’s Adequate’.
Her role was in a short fake documentary about a fictional movie company which had many guest appearances from famous actors and actresses. Dey had previous experience as she took on the character of a southern beauty as she had previously used the role in a season of ‘The Partridge Family’.
More producing roles
Four years after her producing debut Susan Dey took to the role once again in 1993. This time it was for the movie ‘Sad Inheritance’, or ‘Love, Lies and Lullabies’, in which Dey also played the leading character.
The film was praised by the critics as Dey took on the character of Christina Kinsey, a woman suffering from a narcotics addiction. Her world is thrown into turmoil when she discovers she is pregnant which leads to further complications after the child is born prematurely.
‘Whose Child Is This? The War for Baby Jessica’ was the drama television movie from 1994 that was based on a true story. The film followed the story of two couples going through a legal battle to gain custody of a child, Jessica.
Dey was given a chance to work with her husband, Bernard, as he co-produced the movie his wife was playing a starring role in. The film was a success, but unfortunately it is now nearly impossible to get hold of a physical copy.
Before the turn of the century, Dey undertook a very different character for her law programme. During 1999 Dey brought new light to her career when she played a role in ‘Family Law’.
For this show, she wasn’t the one fighting the cases, but instead, the victim that was in need of help as her character had been unlawfully fired from a company following an illness. The character was very different to any seen from Dey before as she wasn’t glamorized meaning people were forced to focus on her acting skills.
In 2008 Susan Dey found herself with an unusual dedication when author Gwyn Cready mentioned the star in her novel ‘Tumbling Through Time’.
The heroine of the story, Persephone Pyle, mentioned how she often thought about Susan Dey. She also thought of Laurie Partridge as her own personal heroine as she longed to live a life that resembled the character’s. Even over thirty years later the show and its characters were still making a significant impact around the world.
Sarah decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps, but not for long as she has only starred in one movie during her career.
In 2009, when she was 31 years old, Sarah landed a role in ‘Danger Island’ playing one of the leads, Clare. The film never made a name for itself over the years, and promptly put a short but sweet end to Sarah’s acting career. It appears we may have seen the last of Dey’s daughter, at least for now.
In recent years Susan has tried her best to stay out of the public eye. Perhaps her avoidance of the media it an attempt to regain her life after so much of her time being spent under the microscope.
It seems as though this star is ready to enjoy the quiet life. However, it has been reported that she is currently living in upstate New York with her husband, Bernard, as she has been spotted by residents.
Hit the Road
During October 2017 a brand new show named ‘Hit the Road’ premiered. The storyline for the show though may have a familiar feel to it as it sounds very similar to the hit ‘The Partridge family’.
The sitcom follows the life of an All American family as they travel around on their bus making music. Sound familiar? Well, a creator and star of the show, Jason Alexander, has admitted that he heavily based the characters on Susan Dey and David Cassidy’s roles on their show.