By Al Kemp
ABINGTON, Pa. – Bobby Rydell, a one-time teen idol who achieved lasting fame as a singer and actor, died on April
5 in Abington Jefferson Hospital. He was 79. The news was announced on the entertainer’s website.
Rydell, born Robert Ridarelli in Philadelphia, rose to fame after being discovered in 1950 as a young entertainer on Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club. In 1959, his first hit single with Cameo-Parkway, “Kissin’ Time,” landed on Billboard’s Hot 100 Hits, launching him into stardom. His recording career resulted in the sale of over 25 million albums, and awarded him 34 top 100 hits, placing him in the top five artists of his era.
Despite worldwide fame, he never strayed far from his roots in Philadelphia, or in Wildwood, N.J., where he spent summers as a boy. Both cities have named streets in his honor.
News of his death sent reverberations through the area’s Italian-American community.
“Bobby Rydell performed at my annual Seven Fishes event. He was not only a
great performer but a down to earth guy who never forgot where he came from,” remembered Dom Giordano, host on WPHT 1210-AM.
Sue Serio, of “Good Day Philadelphia” of Fox 29, said she is “still starstruck” from her time with Rydell.
“A Philly guy, a teen idol, an amazing entertainer. Most importantly, I knew him as just a nice person who was grateful for the life he had. He got 10 bonus years after a double organ transplant in 2012. And every time I saw him, he paid tribute to the person who made that possible,” she said.
Disc jockey and entertainer Jerry Blavat affectionately remembered Rydell as “the real deal.”
“A south Philly kid along with Frankie Avalon who never forgot where they came from. He may be gone singing with the angels but his music will be singing to us each time we hear a song by Bobby Rydell,” he said.
Pete Byron, the mayor of Wildwood, shared fond memories of Rydell, whom he called “Wildwood’s favorite son.”
“I had the pleasure of meeting Bobby Rydell a number of times,” Byron said.
“ A consummate entertainer and, more importantly, a real gentleman. Despite his success, he never forgot his roots . He really loved Wildwood.”
History was made for Rydell when at the age of 19, he became the youngest singer
to perform at New York City’s Copacabana nightclub, a legendary appearance recently portrayed by Von Lewis in the 91st Academy Award-winning film, “Green Book.”
He made his film debut in the 1963 classic, “Bye Bye Birdie,” as Hugo Peabody, the love interest of Ann-Margret’s character, Kim McAfee. He later went on to star in multiple movies, television series, and comedy specials throughout his career.
Rydell was known for multiple appearances on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” and for becoming the high school namesake in the iconic 1978 movie “Grease,” a 1950’s-era teen love story starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
In 1985, talent manager Dick Fox paired Rydell with two other Philadelphia-area entertainers, Frankie Avalon and Fabian, to create The Golden Boys. The entertaining trio continued performing for over decades.
Mr. Rydell’s repertoire included love ballads and dance tunes, along with energetic rockers like “Wild One” and “Swingin’ School.” His signature song was Domenico Modugno’s 1958 hit “Volare.”