Bobby Rydell, Philadelphia teen idol known for ‘Wild One’ and ‘Volare’, dies at 79


Bobby Rydell, 79, the singer who shot to fame as a South Philly teen idol with hits like ‘Kissin’ Time’, ‘Wild One’ and ‘Wildwood Days’, and has maintained a career in show business business that spanned six decades, passed away.

Mr Rydell’s death was confirmed by his marketing and events coordinator, Maria Novey, who said he died on Tuesday afternoon at Jefferson Abington Hospital.

She said Mr Rydell’s death was unexpected, although he had many health problems, dating back to 2012 when he underwent a double transplant to replace a liver and a kidney.

Philadelphia DJ Jerry Blavat had booked Mr. Rydell to perform at the Kimmel Center in January, but the singer was unable to perform due to poor health. The cause of death was complications of pneumonia unrelated to COVID-19, according to Novey. Mr. Rydell’s wife, Linda J. Hoffman, was with him in the hospital, Blavat said.

Along with Frankie Avalon, Chubby Checker and Fabian Forte, Mr Rydell was one of four South Philly teen idols who found a national following in the late 1950s and early 1960s through Dick’s television show Clark based in Philadelphia. American bandstand.

On Twitter, singer Tommy James called out Mr Rydell “a good friend and one of my idols. He will be greatly missed.” Adam Weiner of Philadelphia band Low Cut Connie called him “a South Philly legend. …Bobby did the greatest version of “Volare” ever.

Born Robert Ridarelli, he won a talent contest on Paul Whiteman’s teen tv club show in 1950 and soon after changed his stage name to Rydell. Before emerging from his teens he was an international star, touring Australia with the Everly Brothers in 1960 and becoming the youngest performer to headline New York’s Copacabana in 1961.

His hits were many, beginning with his signing with Philly’s Cameo Records (later to become Cameo Parkway) in 1959. His first was “Kissin’ Time”, followed by “We Got Love”, his first million seller, and ” Little Bitty Girl,” his second. In 1960, he hit it big with a cover of Domenico Modugno’s “Volare,” and 1963’s “Wildwood Days” became a song of celebration and nostalgia for generations of music lovers. Jersey Shore of the Philadelphia area.

That same year, he co-starred with Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke in the film version of the musical goodbye birdie. His name was so associated with the pre-British invasion period of vintage rock-and-roll that the school in the 1971 musical and the 1978 film Fat was known as Rydell High School.

Of all the teen idol singers, “he had the best pipes,” Blavat said on Tuesday. “He could do Sinatra, he could do anything. Listen to ‘Volare’. He could do comedy. He played drums. He was a great impersonator. He was on The Red Skeleton Show Many times. He could have been as big as Bobby Darin, but he didn’t want to leave Philadelphia.

Mr Rydell’s father, Adrio, started taking him to South Philadelphia entertainment venues like the RDA Club and the Erie Social Club when he was 7, asking if his talented son could sit down and play drums with the house band.

He started out as a crooner in his early teens, before becoming a rock and roll sensation who, along with Avalon, Fabian and Checker, helped fill the void of pompadoured teen idols when Elvis Presley’s career was put on hold when he joined the army in 1958.

“I wasn’t really a rock and roll singer,” Mr Rydell told The Inquirer in 2016, when his memoir was published. Teen Idol on the Rocks: A Story of Second Chances. “That’s what had to be done to get there. I’m an American Songbook guy.

If asked his favorite song from his repertoire, Mr. Rydell would answer without hesitation. It was “Wildwood Days,” the ode to the seaside town where, growing up in a townhouse on 11th Street in South Philly, he could escape. His grandmother owned a boarding house there. “It’s the national anthem of the Jersey Shore,” he said.

When Mr. Rydell’s career took off in 1961, his father resigned as a foreman for Electro-Nite Carbon Co. to become its road manager. A few years later, Mr Rydell moved his parents and grandparents into a house with him in Penn Valley, where he lived until moving to Blue Bell in 2019.

The big hits stopped coming for Philly’s teen idols in the mid-1960s, after Bandstand moved to Los Angeles and the Beatles arrived. But Rydell kept playing.

“[I] I can’t believe the vocal ability [Rydell] a,” Avalon said in 2016. “As an actor, as a comedian, as an impressionist, relating to audiences, he is without a doubt one of the most talented human beings in my entire life. generation.

The title of Mr Rydell’s memoir referred to his struggles with alcohol, which he says began in 1992 when his first wife, Camille, who died in 2003, was first diagnosed with breast cancer .

“I had no right to feel sorry for myself,” he wrote in teen idol. “I knew very well how I got to where I was. Decades of drinking had ravaged my body and destroyed my liver and kidneys. I had no one to blame except yours truly.

Mr Rydell married Hoffman, a nurse and X-ray technician, in 2009. After his 20-hour double kidney and liver transplant in 2012, he underwent heart bypass surgery the following year.

Yet Mr. Rydell, whose face adorns the South Philadelphia and Wildwood murals, continued to perform, mostly with Forte and Avalon. With the Golden Boys and as a solo artist, Mr. Rydell averaged about three dozen shows a year before the pandemic hit. The trio returned to the stage in Lancaster in August, but Mr. Rydell was unable to perform in Florida in January. Singer Lou Christie replaced him.

A show at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, originally scheduled for March, had been postponed to June, “and we were hoping he would regain his strength to be able to do this show,” Novey said.

Novey first met Mr. Rydell and Hoffman on a Malt Shop Memories cruise where he was performing “and he just sat and talked and took pictures with everybody,” Novey said. “He was just a guy from Philadelphia who never forgot where he came from. I never saw him turn down an autograph request, and I mean never. We would wait for the car and he would sign an autograph on the roof. He was so grateful, and he certainly had no ego.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Rydell is survived by his daughter, Jennifer Dulin, and son, Robert Ridarelli, and five grandchildren. No arrangements for funeral or memorial services have been made at this time.


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