NEWPORT -- William Cowsill, 58, the lead singer for the 1960s family band The Cowsills, died Friday night in Canada, according to his brothers -- who learned of the death yesterday just moments after a memorial service for another brother, Barry.
The Cowsill siblings had gathered at King Park for the service honoring Barry, who drowned after Hurricane Katrina. About a half-hour afterwards, they received a phone call about William's death.
"We don't know what happened, but he hasn't been well for a while," Robert Cowsill said last night, as a party to honor Barry Cowsill got under way at the Hotel Viking. William was suffering from emphysema, osteoporosis, Cushing syndrome and other ailments, Robert Cowsill said.
The oldest of the Cowsill siblings, William was living in Calgary, Alberta. He had moved 35 years ago to Canada, where he formed a successful band called Blue Shadows, according to Robert. In addition to his five siblings, William is survived by two sons, Travis and Del.
Despite the bad news, the Cowsills decided to go ahead with plans to perform at a party honoring Barry, which drew a crowd of 500 to the Hotel Viking ballroom.
"It's shocking," said Paul Cowsill. "I can't begin to tell you how weird it is. But we're still here and now it's just a party for two."
Paul said that William had had problems with drugs and alcohol which "caught up with him."
"He'd be the first one to tell you he's paying the fiddler," Paul said.
Earlier in the day, a couple of hundred people bid farewell to Barry Cowsill amid fittingly stormy weather.
Barry Cowsill drowned in September, after Hurricane Katrina. His body was found in the waters of downtown New Orleans on Dec. 28. He was 51.
Yesterday's offbeat memorial service at King Park lasted barely 30 minutes because of the blistering cold.
Numb-faced family members hurried Richard Cowsill through the eulogy, a column written recently by a New York writer. The article characterized his brother as someone "always in the middle of some kind of storm" because of his life's many ups and downs.
Then Susan Cowsill tried to release her brother's ashes into Newport Harbor. A sudden gust of wind blew most of the remains back at the mourners.
"I got ashes in my eye and I'm digging it," said brother Paul, 54, who lives in Oregon. "It's tough losing one of the babies [of the family]. When I was little, [the youngest siblings] were under my care. I love Barry a lot."
Barry Cowsill played bass and sang in the family band of six, which was the real-life inspiration behind the hit television series The Partridge Family.
The Cowsill family had eight in all -- father Bud, mother Barbara, daughter Susan and sons William, Robert, Richard, Barry, Paul and John. Richard Cowsill was the only sibling not in the act.
The Cowsills were spotted by a NBC producer at a regular Newport gig in 1965. Soon after, they had three number-one hits, including "Hair," "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" and "Indian Lake." They also had two other Top 10 singles from a total of eight albums. In addition, they starred in their own television special, headlined in Las Vegas and did milk commercials.
"Being born and raised in Newport during the '60s and '70s, someone like myself had to be influenced by the Cowsills," said city resident Dave Livingston, who left a condolence message on the family's Web site, www.cowsill.com. ". . . We all dreamed of being the Beatles or the Dave Clark Five, but having a Newport band on the radio and television made it actually seem possible."
The online memorial book was 54 pages long and had more than 1,000 entries.
"I was a young girl who grew up with the clean music of the Cowsills," wrote a Freemont, Calif., woman. "Barry was my 'first love,' and through all these years I have remembered him on his birthday."
The article Richard Cowsill read at the service confirmed that Barry was the family's heartthrob. It said he had dark, wavy hair, an easy smile and was a "cutup."
"There was a time -- the 1960s and early 1970s -- when thousands of American girls drifted off to sleep at night with full-color Barry Cowsill posters gazing down on them," Richard read while laughing.
Many laughed with him. Some women in the audience, gripping flowers and wiping at tears, said that was them.
"It's almost poetic," Richard said as the flowers, dusted with Barry's ashes, flew out of the women's hands and were carried into the air by the strong winds. "Barry set this up. You can find him everywhere now. It's just what he wanted."