On the surface, the Cowsills appeared to be the typical American family, surprisingly popular at a time where pop music was becoming grungy, anti-social and psychedelic; their music made flower-power palatable to mid-America's mamas and papas. Here was a family band, seemingly perfect in every way, brothers Bill, Bob, Barry, Paul and John, sister Susan, mother Barbara, and dad as their manager, backstage pulling the strings. Dad was an ex-Navy man with the perfect 'Joe-six-pack' name - "Bud."
The group started as a Boy Band, the four brother inspired by the Beatles, playing at school socials in their hometown of Newport, RI. When they came to the attention of record producer Artie Kornfeld, it was he who conceived the concept of a family collaboration, adding mom and the rest of the siblings to the group, MGM records, thrilled at the marketing possibilities, released, "The Rain, The Park & Other Things," which became a million-seller. Aside from the cozy-family gimmick, it didn't hurt that Barry was a heartthrob, a perfect fantasy poster boy and an ideal cover cut-out for 16 Magazine. The Cowsills charted a handful of hits in the mid-Sixties, which led to multiple appearances on our state, on Ed Sullivan and on their own wholesome television special, sponsored by the American Dairy Association.
As sweet and sunny as The Cowsills appeared, rumors abounded about the darker side of the family, particularly in the maniacal management style of daddy "Bud," said to be a hard-driving tyrant. There was still another son Richard, who, it was believed, "Bud" cruelly pushed aside. When Columbia Pictures approached "Bud" about developing a Cowsill Family series for ABC, "Bud" refused. He didn't like the idea of Shirley Jones playing mother Barbara,not exactly a rational business decision.
Their final and biggest hit, "Hair" was released in 1967, and when "The Partridge Family" hit the airwaves in 1970 without them, the band disbanded, each moving on to assorted musical pursuits. Mother Barbara died in 1985. Brother Barry, chasing a solo career, was living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina arrived. Four days after Katrina struck, a telephone message from Barry to his sister Susan was recorded: "I don't know how to get out of town except wait for a bus. I've been so lonely; I hope I get in touch with you." Four months passed without a word, his frantic family begging for information, plastering the town with posters, eager for some sign of hope. Then the decomposing body of a male was found floating in the muddy waters near downtown New Orleans. Dental records confirmed, Barry Cowsill, 51, musician, cause of death: unknown.
The special guest on my final show was Paul Anka, now the stage savvy 'superstar,' as generous as when appearing on my shows nine years earlier. The Cowsills appeared one last time, as a reminder that Sh-Boomers may be squeaky-clean and still achieve success in the music-biz. But, it was a remarkable uneventful hour until a surprise phone call from Jerry Lewis threw me. Barry Glazer simply placed a telephone on my table and said "Pick it up."