Bobby Rydell, 60s Teen Idol and ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ Star, Dies
Bobby Rydell, a pompadoured heartthrob of early rock ‘n roll who was a star of radio, television and the movie musical “Bye Bye Birdie,” died Tuesday.
According to Maria Novey (his marketing coordinator and event coordinator), Rydell passed away from complications caused by pneumonia at Philadelphia’s suburbia Hospital.
Rydell, a 79-year-old man who credits a 2012 transplant of his liver and kidneys for prolonging the length of his life with saving it, was also 77.
Rydell was part of a generation of wholesome teen idols, including Fabian, James Darren and Frankie Avalon. Rydell emerged shortly after Elvis Presley’s death and well before the rise of The Beatles.
Between 1959 and 1964, he had nearly three dozen Top 40 singles including “Wild One,” “Volare,” “Wildwood Days,” “The Cha-Cha-Cha” and “Forget Him,” a song of consolation for a bereft girl that helped inspire the Beatles’ classic “She Loves You.”
He had recurring roles on “The Red Skelton Show” and other television programs, and 1963’s “Bye Bye Birdie” was rewritten to give Rydell a major part as the boyfriend of Ann-Margret. He didn’t want to move to Hollywood, however, and “Birdie” became his only significant movie role — though the high school in the hit ’70s musical “Grease” was named for him.
Rydell remained close to his Philadelphia roots throughout his entire life. Bobby Rydell Boulevard was named after the block where Rydell grew up in Philadelphia, and it was established by his hometown in 1995.
“I never thought of myself as a celebrity,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2003. “I was just a guy who went out there and worked.”
Robert Ridarelli was born in South Philadelphia, where he would later become a teenager idol along with Fabian, Fabian and Avalon. They knew each other as children — Rydell played drums with Avalon on trumpet in a group called Rocco and the Saints.
Rydell was an aspiring actor before making it to the cover of Teen Magazines and Movie Screens. He started his career as a teenager in Philadelphia clubs.
His performance debut was as a drummer at 7 years old, and not singer. His first drum kit was a gift from his father, Al Ridarelli, who inspired his son’s choice of instrument by taking him to see Gene Krupa perform.
When he was nine years old, he appeared on an amateur television program and became the show’s regular drummer for three consecutive years.
Rydell got his big break in 1959 on “American Bandstand,” which originally was broadcast from Philadelphia. His first hit, “Kissing Time,” quickly followed, and the skinny 17-year-old with a pompadour haircut rocketed to stardom. Rydell and his fellow Philadelphia performers were ideal for “Bandstand” host Dick Clark, who sought to make rock n’ roll palatable to young and old. Clark also organized a nationwide tour that saw Rydell make live appearances.
Rydell, along with his fellow Brits, experienced a shift in musical taste that was facilitated by the Beatles. Rydell continued recording and performing music in limited success until the 1970s. In 1985, Rydell joined Fabian and Avalon for what was only a couple of performances. They dubbed themselves “The Golden Boys of Bandstand,” and the shows were so successful that the trio ended up touring for three years and performing 300 shows nationwide.
“We weren’t out to prove anything. We just said to ourselves, ‘Here are three Italian kids from South Philadelphia, born and raised within two blocks of each other. Let’s go out there and have fun,’” Rydell told The Atlantic City Weekly in 2006. “That hasn’t changed. People see this attitude from the stage. It’s a fun show to watch — that’s what’s made it so successful. We have a great time doing it.”
Rydell’s childhood sweetheart and first wife, Camille, died in 2003.
Linda Hoffman was his second wife and he is survived by Robert Ridarelli’s daughter Jennifer Dulin.
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