Herbie J Pilato: Goodbye to a Trio of TV Angels

by Herbie J Pilato

If there’s a television heaven, then it now has one heck of an additional cast.

Della Reese, David Cassidy, and Jim Nabors have passed away.

Three times the charm, this troika of actor/singers were gone within days of one another.

Reese had developed Type 2-diabetes, but no formal cause for her death was revealed when she passed away at age 86 on November 19, 2017.  Cassidy succumbed at 67 to liver failure on November 21, 2017, and Nabors died at 87 of after struggling with various health issues for a lengthy period of time.

Best known for indelible roles which will be embedded in the psyche of adoring viewers for TV time immemorial, Reese, Cassidy, and Nabors leave behind their own unique brand of angel voice and image.

On Touched by an Angel (CBS, 1994-2003), Reese sang the opening theme for a show on which she portrayed Tess, the loving-kind but strict supervising angel.  Off-camera, Reese was equally strong-willed, and stood firm in her convictions.

As her close friend, and Angel co-star Roma Downey recently revealed to Peoplemagazine, while filming Angel, Reese’s daughter, Deloreese Daniels, passed away.  Shortly after, Reese took Downey into her arms and said, “God is so amazing, baby. I always knew that he brought me into your life because you needed a momma. I just hadn’t realized he brought you into my life because I was going to need a baby girl.”

“We all love her and we will all miss her, and of course we mourn for her,” Downey said. “But we are also so grateful for the time we shared with her. She achieved so much and she touched the hearts of everyone who knew her.”

On The Partridge Family (ABC, 1970-1977), Cassidy played and sang as Keith Partridge, as both the actor and the singer became a pop-star “teen angel.” Cassidy fought hard to distance himself from his iconic Partridge portrayal but eventually came to terms with that persona, and embraced his place in pop-culture history, if only for a short time before he was diagnosed with dementia.

Actor Danny Bonaduce, one of Cassidy’s younger Partridge co-stars, shared his thoughts in The Hollywood Reporter, writing, in part, “When it came to his own career, though, David got robbed. When he decided he didn’t want to be Keith Partridge anymore, he quit The Partridge Family. He wanted to go on tour and be a real rock ‘n’ roll star.

“But the road he chose to go down after the show, it didn’t go as far. He became the Partridge Family theme song, he became the act of looking like David Cassidy, with the same thousand fans coming to every show. He never did get the life he wanted. It really was a tragedy. I was in Europe when he died, but I heard he was surrounded by his family – Shirley Jones, Shaun Cassidy, Patrick Cassidy. And I heard his last words were, ‘So much wasted time.’”

TVWriter™’s “Beloved Leader,” Larry Brody, has another perspective on Cassidy:

“In 1974, when I was producing the series POLICE STORY, David starred in an episode I wrote that not only was one of our highest rated shows but also was spun off into its own series, MAN UNDERCOVER,” LB told me recently. “For me, the best thing about working with him was his reaction when I brought my then 5-year-old daughter, who’d been watching PARTRIDGE FAMILY reruns most of her short life, to the set.”

Larry continued. “She saw David and stared and stared and stared. After the scene, he came over, hunkered down, and said hi, and still she stared and stared and stared. It wasn’t until he’d left the stage that my daughter finally spoke, throwing her arms around me and saying, ‘Thank you for the best day of my life!'”

LB’s bottom line on David Cassidy? “He was more than a star. He was a mensch.”

On The Andy Griffith Show (CBS, 1960-1968) and Gomer Pyle, USMC (CBS, 1964-1969) Nabors embodied a character with a heart of gold and on and off-screen possessed the true singing voice of an angel.

Nabors’s warmth-factor ranking on the Richter scale of appeal was off the charts.  His down-home portrayal of Pyle may have prevented him from playing other roles, but like Cassidy, Nabors was ultimately at peace with his most identifiable recognition.  As reported by The New York Times, when not on camera, Nabors imbued a measure of Pyle’s innocence.

At the height of his fame in 1969, Nabors admitted, “For the first four years of the series, I didn’t trust my success. Every weekend and on every vacation, I would take off to play nightclubs and concerts, figuring the whole thing would blow over some day.

Nabors is survived by his husband, Stan Cadwallader, who was by his side.

Besides Jones, and brothers Shaun and Patrick, Cassidy, who was married three times (to actress Kay Lenz, 1977-1983; horse breeder Meryl Tanz, 1984-1985; Sue Shifrin, 1991-2014), is survived by his youngest brother Ryan, a daughter, actress Katie Cassidy (born in 1986 from a relationship with fashion model Sherry Williams), and a son Beau, a musician (born in 1991, with Shifrin).

Reese, who was also married three times (Vermont Taliaferro, 1951-1958; Leroy Gray, 1959-1961; Franklin Lett, 1983-2017), leaves behind Lett, and children Dominique Reese, James Reese, and Franklin Reese.

Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, and the author of several classic TV companion books.  He is practically a founding father of TVWriter™ and is a Contributing Editor Emeritus. This article first appeared on Emmys.Org Learn more about Herbie J Pilato HERE.