NEWPORT - The Cowsills traveled to Newport this weekend to honor brother Barry, who died in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, only to learn that oldest brother Bill had died Friday in Canada after a long battle with health problems.
"We took a second hit today," Bob Cowsill said Saturday during a party at the Hotel Viking in memory of Barry, whose body was found in New Orleans on Dec. 28.
Bill Cowsill, 58, was considered the early driving force of the Newport-based band that became the prototype for "The Partridge Family" television show. The family had scattered Barry's ashes Saturday afternoon at King Park and on Indian Avenue in Middletown, where the family once lived, and then learned their oldest brother had died the previous day.
Bill Cowsill had battled emphysema and osteoporosis, among other ailments, in recent years and had struggled with alcohol and drugs. His brother Richard said he recently had been receiving hospice care.
Family members said they knew Bill's prognosis was grim, but were shocked that he died the same weekend as Barry's memorial. Funeral services for Bill Cowsill have yet to be announced.
In 2004, the Cowsills gathered with other musicians in Los Angeles for a benefit concert for Bill, "A Family Thing 2." In a bit of irony, Barry sang a song of his called "Going Home."
Not long after the news of Bill Cowsill's death traveled through the Hotel Viking downstairs ballroom, where about 400 people gathered to remember Barry, Richard "Biggy" Korn described Bill Cowsill as the driving force of the band.
Korn, who owns Yesterday's in Washington Square, served as the Cowsills road manager in their heyday.
"It really started as Bill and Bob singing together as kids," Korn said. "Billy played lead guitar and Bob played rhythm and they harmonized beautifully. Bill had this amazing voice. He sang as smoothly as Roy Orbison, but also had a funkier edge. There was no style he couldn't sing. He could sing anything. This is just unbelievable news."
The Cowsills eventually expanded to a family group, with mother, Barbara, and sister Susan complementing Bill, Bob, Paul, Barry and John. When the Cowsills' popularity waned, family members scattered across the country.
For the past 35 years, Bill lived in Canada, where he played with the Vancouver band The Blue Shadows and wrote country-tinged tunes. During Saturday's party for Barry, John Cowsill and wife Victoria Peterson Cowsill, formerly of the Bangles, sang Bill's lamenting "Think On It."
The last time the entire family gathered in Newport was 2000, when the Cowsills played Taste of Rhode Island at the Newport Yachting Center. Some had not seen each other in years and a few had never met some of their siblings' families.
Deborah Cowsill, Barry's ex-wife, flew in from California for Saturday's events. "I think maybe Bill just wanted to be with Barry," she said. "Billy was Barry's mentor growing up. Maybe Billy just felt it was time to be with Barry."
Near the end of a long day, Bob Cowsill said: "Barry and Bill are now home. And we are all home (in Newport). Everybody's home."