Suzanne Crough, fallen Partridge, in action.
The red-haired pixie playing a tambourine in the background of many a “Partridge Family” musical number has died. Suzanne Crough, a.k.a. Tracy Partridge, the youngest daughter of a TV clan that generated a slew of hits in the 1970s, died this week at 52 in Nevada.
“I can’t tell you the number of sacrifices she made in order for me to get through law school and for our kids,” Crough’s husband, William Condray, told the Associated Press. “She was truly a devout mother.”
Though no cause of death was specified in news reports, Las Vegas police said Crough suffered “a medical episode,” as the Associated Press reported, and that the cause of her death was “not suspicious.”
Those too young to remember David Cassidy before DUIs and Danny Bonaduce before talk radio may not appreciate the pervasive influence of the Partridges on American popular culture. Sure, the show about a widowed mom who starts a band with her five kids ran for four seasons and was a moderate smash for ABC. Sure, the Grammy-winning group sang radio-friendly fare such as “I Think I Love You” and put out the record “The Partridge Family Album,” among others. But the Partridges were a phenomenon arguably with a larger impact than other pre-packaged pop-rock fluff rolled out by Hollywood for baby boomers.
“While the Monkees (TV series and band concept) were styled as mid-’60s counter-culture zaniness à la the Beatles’ film Hard Days Night, The Partridge Family was strictly wholesome with traditional family values despite the lite quasi-hip tone of the show,” AllMusic wrote. “There were Partridge Family games, magazines, coloring books, music and paperback books, pillow cases, toy guitars, dolls, lunch boxes, beach towels, paper dolls, and a line of children’s clothing, which generated about 500 million dollars in licensing revenue.”
Crough, just 7 when the show debuted, had a front seat — well, at least a backseat — on the roller-coaster ride.
“My oldest brother was in ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ as one of Opie’s friends,” Crough said in an interview with the fan Web site C’Mon Get Happy in 2000. “That is kind of what pushed my mother into letting [me] try acting, too. The producer would lock me in the jail cell to take a nap. He told my mother to get me in acting. He thought I was funny. And I was not shy.”
Though Crough had heart, it was clear from the beginning that she would not be the breakout Partridge. Cassidy, a teen idol whose visage adorned posters on fans’ bedroom walls, often took lead vocals and gave saucy interviews to Rolling Stone; comely Susan Dey, who would go on to star in “L.A. Law,” was the eldest sister; Bonaduce was the wiseacre with the good punchlines.
But tambourinists rarely transcend their humble roots. When the show exited stage left in 1974, Crough was barely 11, yet facing that most turbulent time in the life of any child star: adulthood.
“I came to the age, at 20, that is hard to transfer to an adult,” Crough said in 2000. “I had a good list of credits, but it’s just hard. So I went out for parts when there were some, and I traveled a little, had some fun, and then met my husband.”
Indeed, though Crough starred in an Oscar-winning short film, her “good list of credits” sort of petered out by 1980, save for the occasional Partridge reunion.
“I asked her if she was a real actress, and she asked me if I was a real cop,” Condray said.
Still, life went on. Crough, the mother of two and, recently, a grandmother, owned a bookstore in California until 1993, as the New York Times reported. In 2010, she told Al Roker of the “Today” show she had done time as a manager at Office Max.
“She was madly in love with her granddaughter,” Condray said of the couple’s 1-year-old granddaughter, Evelena. “… My wife and I were going to celebrate 30 years of marriage in July.”
As news of Crough’s death spread, her former castmates weighed in.
“I am so devastated to hear of the sad and sudden loss of Suzanne,” Shirley Jones, who played Crough’s mother on the show, told Hollywood Life. “I still remember her as my young daughter on The Partridge Family. She was the baby of the show. It’s a rude awakening that we are all mortal. How fleeting life is.”
“Everyone thought I’d be the first Partridge to go,” Bonaduce tweeted. “Sadly it was little Tracy. Suzanne was a wonderful lady & a good mom. She will be missed.”
Asked in 2000 where Tracy would be today, Crough did not aim low.
“I would like to say a CEO of a studio, or a mom,” she said. “I don’t know what she would be professionally, but she would be the most important thing — a good person, with a great attitude about life.”