Bobby Rydell Dead: 1960s Pop Idol and Star of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ turned 79

Bobby Rydell, the epitome of the early ’60s “teen idol” who turned that fame into a starring role opposite Ann-Margret in the 1963 film “Bye Bye Birdie,” died today at the age of 79. The cause of death was pneumonia. .

His death just days after his 80th birthday was confirmed by radio legend Jerry Blavat, Rydell’s longtime friend from the singer’s South Philadelphia stairwell. “Out of all the kids” from that era, Blavat said, “he had the best pipes and was the greatest entertainer. He told the best stories, made the best imitations and was the cutest guy.”

Rydell’s fame as the epitome of an American teen pop star in the days just before rock’s British invasion was such that Rydell High School in the Broadway musical and the subsequent film “Grease” was named after him. An actor also portrayed him in a performance scene in the movie “Green Book”.

“It was so nice to know that high school [in ‘Grease’] was named after me, ”he said. “And I said, ‘Why me?’ “It could have been Anka High, Presley High, Everly High, Fabian High, Avalon High. And they came up with Rydell High, and once again total honor.”

The singer had 34 singles charts on the Billboard Hot 100, the most memorable of which include “Wild One,” which reached No. 2, and “Volare,” a No. 4 hit. Other top 10 songs included “Swingin ‘School,” “The Cha-Cha-Cha.” His series of top 10 songs began with “We Got Love”, which reached No. 6 in 1959, and ended with “Forget Him” ​​in 1964.

Bobby Rydell Portraits At Home In Bryn Mawr, Pa. April 18, 2016

One of his first hits, “Wildwood Days,” first reached No. 17 in 1963, but remains an anthem in the New Jersey area, after which it is named. A mural by Rydell adorns the Wildwood, NJ boardwalk.

In a 2020 interview, Rydell recalled how his role in “Bye Bye Birdie” expanded when he was cast. “I go and see the piece and I look at Hugo Peabody and he does not sing, there are no lines, there is no dance, he just stood there. But when I went out to start filming, Mr. (George) Sidney a kind of magic between Ann-Margret and myself, and every day I went back to Columbia Studios, my script got bigger and bigger and bigger. More dialogue, more singing, more dancing. And I’m not a movie star, but if I were to be in one picture, it’s a classic, such as ‘Grease’. And I’m really happy to be involved in something that was so wonderful. ”

Born Robert Louis Ridarelli on April 26, 1942, Rydell began singing and playing drums at the age of 6, and as a 7-year-old he began performing professionally in nightclubs in the Philly / South Jersey area at the urging of his father.

In 1950, Rydell won a talent show during the TV series “Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club” and became a regular in the program. After three years as part of Whiteman’s singing on-air crew, the vocalist / drummer changed his name to “Rydell” and began playing for local bands such as Rocco and the Saints (an ensemble that also featured another South Philly friend, Frankie Avalon, as its trumpeter).

After trying his luck with a handful of failed singles for small, independent labels, Rydell signed with Philadelphia’s Cameo Records (eventually Cameo / Parkway) and hit the charts with “Kissin ‘Time” in 1959. With the single and its sequel-ups , “We Got Love” (his first millionaire), “Wild One”, “Swingin ‘” and his bid for the classic “Volare”, Rydell became a bonafide teen idol.

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Ann-Margret, right, and Bobby Rydell dance during a scene from “Bye Bye Birdie” in the movie set in Hollywood, Ca., September 14, 1962. It was the first movie for actor-singer Bobby, 20, and second place for actress Ann-Margret, 21st (AP Photo)

In 1961, when Rydell performed a show at Copacabana in New York City in 1961, Rydell became the youngest artist to ever headline the famous nightclub, cementing his status with Rat Pack fans as well as teenage crowds (In 1961, he performed). at the Festival du Rock at the Palais des Sports de Paris in Paris, France, which cemented his relationship with European and British audiences, for whom he would lead cabaret concerts to this day).

In 1963, he played the role of Hugo Peabody in the film version of the satirical musical “Bye Bye Birdie” with Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke. His part was not the titular rock star, but the jealous girlfriend of the girl who wins a chance to meet Birdie before joining the army. In 2011, “Bye Bye Birdie” received a digital restoration, and Rydell performed alongside Ann-Margret at a special Academy screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater (see video below).

Next year, Rydell would leave Cameo-Parkway Records for Capitol Records, the same label that his soon-to-be rivals in the Beatles appeared.

In the late 60s, he moved to Reprise, where he had little success. “Mr Sinatra wanted me on his Reprise label, so of course I said yes, but there was no promotion,” Rydell told Goldmine.

Rydell, Avalon and the rest of the pure teen idol team became lounge singers in Las Vegas and on the international touring circuit as they surrendered their popularity to everything that is mop-top.

After 1965, Rydell never appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 again, although he continued to release singles through the mid-70s, and one of his last songs, a disco number called “Sway” in 1977, made a modest dent in the adult contemporary chart.

Rydell wrote a memoir, “Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol on the Rocks: A Tale of Second Chances.” The subtitle “on the rocks” referred to a battle with alcoholism after his wife of 36 years died of breast cancer in 2003.

“There was a huge void in my life, and no one to lie in bed with, no one to talk to, no one to smile with, laugh with, tell stories to,” he said in an interview with Morning Call when the book came out. in 2016. “And you know, I turned to drinking. And vodka became a very, very dear friend – to the point where a few years later it led to a double transplant. A new liver and a new kidney due to all the drinking.… I hope that many people who may have the same type of problems may learn from the book. There are quite a few people who, when they wrote the review, said: ‘I wish he would have explained more about his alcoholism. ‘ Well, maybe it’s going to be another book if God saves it. ”

After marrying his second wife, Linda, he received a double transplant in 2012.

In early July of that year he said, “My wife and I were in bed, and I said to her, ‘Listen, honey, we better get it all together, because I’m not going to make it. And … she had told me a few days before, she said, ‘If you’re ever going to get a liver, it’s going to happen around this time of year – the fourth of July, you know, hit-and-runs, DUI ‘er, accidents, so on, so on. And unfortunately, a young girl from Reading, Pennsylvania, Julia – she was only 21 years old, she was hit by a car. And she became my donor. And not only did she save my life, but she also saved seven other people. And I am [blood type] O-positive, which means I can give to anyone, but I can only take O-positive and Julia was O-positive. It was a miracle how things happened. That was really it. ”

Rydell toured as a solo act to this day and has been part of the Golden Boys stage production since 1985 with Frankie Avalon and Fabian. The three “idols” had prepared a spring and summer tour for 2022.

In a 2020 interview, Rydell spoke of the trio’s endurance as a touring act. “Now we’re doing a show, I’m sure you’re aware of it, called ‘The Golden Boys,’ and we started that show in 1985, and it was a huge success,” he said. “And I said to Frankie – and I called him Cheech, because in Italian Frank is Cheech – I said, ‘Cheech, that’s great, but how long will it last? One year, two years to the top, it’s over.’ Well, that was in 1985, and we’ll continue in 2021, and we’re still doing the show. It’s amazing. “

In his 2016 interview with Morning Call, Rydell expressed few regrets about how his career had gone. “It will be six decades ago, my God, 1959, when I had my first hit record. And I’m so happy and blessed that I’m again able to do what I really love. And that’s been my life, again since I was 7 years old.So no, I can not complain at all about my career.You know, it has had its ups and downs, its peaks and valleys, so on, so on.But I have survived all that , and I keep doing what I really enjoy doing.

“At 74, I do not think I’m a teenage idol anymore. I mean, the fans are still there, God bless them. I mean, they’m coming out, and I’m guessing they remember back in the ’50s, how amazing everything was. It was really like the TV show ‘Happy Days’.… And I think all the fans who still come out to the shows, they remember it and they want to reflect back to the specific years “Where, yes, Bobby Rydell was an idol in his teens. And it’s a wonderful thing to have after so many, many years.”

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