Note: Parts of this article is found in other newspapers, but this version had many additions.
Boston – In the late 1960s, the Cowsills were the quintessential American family, a sweet, pop rock group of five siblings and their mini-skirted mother who later became the model for TV's "The Partridge Family."
By 1971, they had virtually vanished, the victim of a fickle public and poor management. Their $30 million fortune disappeared in bad investments. The breakup was so acrimonious, many members of the family did not speak until their mother's funeral in 1985. At the time of her death from emphysema, she was working the night shift in a Rhode Island nursing home.
"It wasn't just the end of a business, it was the end of a family," said group leader Bob Cowsill, 40.
The wholesome-looking family from Newport, R.I., shot to the top between 1967 and 1970. In their heyday the Cowsills had three No.1 hits – including “Hair,” “The Rain, the park and Other Things,” and “Indian Lake” – and two other Top 10 singles from a total of eight albums. They starred in their own NBC-TV special, headlined in Las Vegas, did milk commercials and were plastered on the covers of teen mags.
But as their fame evaporated, so did the happy family image. Years under the iron rule of their father-manager Bud had taken its toll.
Now they’re planning a comeback – both as a group and as a family. They reunited for the first time in 20 years in Boston earlier this month at a concert dedicated to their mother.
“We were the first family of rock ‘n’ roll,” said Susan Cowsill, 30, who joined the group when she was 7.
The Cowsill brothers, however, resented the bubblegum image foisted on them by record companies. “We’d worked hard to be a creative band, and instead they had us tap dancing on the Ed Sullivan show,” said Barry Cowsill, 36, now living in Carmel, Calif. “We didn’t want to be these cute guys on posters for lonely girls in the Midwest.”
The band consisted of Bill, now 41, Bob, 40, Paul, 38, Barry, 36, John, 32, little sister Susan and Mom, Barbara. Bob’s twin, Richard, was excluded from the band by their father – who later kicked Bill out after a fight.
“My dad was a seventh grade dropout who joined the Navy and he ran his family like the military,” said Bob. “Whatever Dad said, went. He wasn’t the kind of guy you argued with.”
That rule extended to the arbitrary exclusion of Bob’s twin brother from the band.
“It was hard, man,” said Richard Cowsill. “People would say, ‘Oh, are you a Cowsill?’ and I had to say, yes, but it was hard to explain why I wasn’t in the band.”
Bud Cowsill, whom his children say has “mellowed,” now lives alone in Rosarita Beach in Mexico. Bill and Richard are both recovering alcoholics and several others have had serious problems with drugs.
As for the rest of the family, many of the brothers saw each other no more than a few times in the past 20 years.
They repeatedly rejected offers to go on “oldies” tours. But after deejay Barry Scott, who hosts a “Lost 45s” program on WZLX-FM in Boston, taped an interview with Bob last year, the group decided to get back together.
Now, they hope to find a record company that will allow them to do the kind of music they envisioned in the early days in Newport.
“We all love each other very much,” said Barry Cowsill. “It was just like the molecules got too close. I think if people just put away their prejudices, we can really come back again.”