Bobby Rydell, the pop singer and teen idol from Philadelphia who starred alongside Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke in goodbye birdie, is dead. He was 79 years old.
Rydell died Tuesday at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, WPVI-TV in Philadelphia reported. He was still touring and was scheduled to perform at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City in June.
After hitting hard with songs such as “Wild One” and his version of “Volare”, Rydell voiced Hugo Peabody in George Sidney’s film adaptation. goodbye birdie (1963) in the role that Michael J. Pollard originated on Broadway opposite Van Dyke, Susan Watson and Chita Rivera.
The role in the film was greatly expanded to feature him, and he and Ann-Margret (as Kim) starred in high school.
“Peabody in the Broadway show was absolutely nothing, he never sang, he never danced, he did nothing,” he said in 2013. “When we first arrived on set at Columbia, my script got bigger and bigger every day.”
Robert Louis Ridarelli was born in Philadelphia on April 26, 1942. Encouraged by his father, Adrio, he began performing at the age of 7 in the region’s nightclubs, then won a television competition on Paul Whiteman’s Teen club amateur program. (It was Whiteman who suggested he take the name Rydell.)
He sang and played drums in the dance group Rocco and the Saints with Frankie Avalon (who played trumpet), was signed to Cameo/Parkway Records, and had his first hit with “Kissin’ Time” in 1959.
His success met that year with “We Got Love” followed by “Wild One” (which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100), “Sway”, “Little Bitty Girl”, “Swingin’ School”, “Ding-a-Ling”, and “Volare”, which peaked at No. 4 in the summer of 1960. That year he toured Australia with the Everly Brothers.
In 1961, he became the youngest artist to headline the famous Copacabana nightclub in New York.
Rydell had other top-20 hits with “Wildwood Days” in 1963 — he called it “the national anthem of the Jersey Shore” — and “Forget Him,” which reached No. 4 in January 1964. That year he signed with Capitol Records, but his popularity waned amid the British invasion. Yet he has sold around 25 million records during his career.
“I wasn’t really a rock and roll singer,” he said the Philadelphia plaintiff in 2016, when he published his memoirs, Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol on the Rocks. “That’s what had to be done to get there. I’m an American Songbook guy.
He persevered in nightclubs for decades as a popular entertainer — he sang with Avalon and Fabian, another Philadelphia legend, in an oldies number called “The Golden Boys” — and Rydell High School in the 1978 box office. Fat was named for him.
In 2012, he underwent a double organ transplant, receiving 75% of a liver and a kidney.
Survivors include his wife, Linda.