Bobby Rydell plays The Sharon on May 17-18, and those attending can expect to hear a story about a young lady named Julia — who saved his life.
“Julia is my special angel,” Rydell, one of the Golden Boys of Bandstand said on stage during a recent performance. Rydell — who had such hits as “Wild One,” “Volare” and appeared in the movie “Bye Bye Birdie” — releases his autobiography May 4. It’s called “Teen Idol On The Rocks.”
Julia is a big part of the book and his life. She was pronounced brain dead, after being hit by a car in Reading, Pa in July, 2012. Bobby Rydell, now 74, was also close to death in his Philadelphia-area home due to cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure.
Doctors believed he had only a few weeks to live.
Rydell, who had been waiting months for a transplant, remembers going to bed on July 8, 2012 and talking to his wife about dying.
“I told her to get all the papers ready, I’m going to die,” Rydell told Senior Directory. “I don’t think we’re going to make it.”
Then the hospital called and said a donor named Julia was found. On July 9, 2012, Rydell underwent a 20-hour liver and kidney transplant operation. A year later, he had double bypass heart surgery.
Despite those illnesses, the one-time teen idol from the late 1950s and early ‘60s is still going strong. And at every appearance, he makes a pitch for organ donors to save lives, as he will at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center. Showtime is 7 p.m. on May 17-18.
“Julia not only saved my life, she saved the lives of seven other people who were able to use her organs,” Rydell said on stage. “As a favor to me, next time you apply for your driver’s license, please put down you will be an organ donor. It truly is the gift of life.”
Bobby Rydell has had a remarkable life, and it is detailed in his autobiography. He grew up in South Philadelphia
as Robert Ridarelli and played in big bands as a kid.
Rydell, along with fellow Philadelphians Fabian and Frankie Avalon, dominated the pop music scene from the late 1950s to early ‘60s.
Elvis went into the Army in 1958 and was gone for a couple of years. Dick Clark of American Bandstand knew that the kids, especially teenage girls, were looking for new idols. The Golden Boys of Bandstand delivered the screams.
Rydell was 16 when he first appeared on Bandstand in 1959 and soon had his first hit record, “Kissin’ Time.” The hits kept coming with “Wild One,” “We Got Love” and “Swingin’ School,” a song used in the Dick Clark movie, “Because They’re Young.”
Rydell, though, was more than just a manufactured pop idol. He was funny. Rydell was a semi-regular guest on “The Red Skelton Show,” and other variety shows. He could do imitations and often did a Skelton character called Clem Kadiddlehopper.
He was also a talented singer. “Volare,” is a pop masterpiece and Rydell took the former hit song and made it his own. In 1961, Rydell – then 19 — became the youngest headliner at the famed Copa Club in New York City.
“Rydell is a pure entertainer,” said DJ Al Brady, a Villager who hosts a Sunday show, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. on WVLG-AM. “He is a natural singer and natural comic.”
Here is a video of “Volare:”
In 1963, Rydell displayed his versatility in the movie musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.” The film starred Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh. Rydell played Hugo, Ann Margret’s boyfriend.
“Ann and I are still in touch to this day,” Rydell told Senior Directory. He added that he and Margret had “some kind of chemistry.
“The part of Hugo Peabody on Broadway was absolutely nothing. He didn’t sing, he didn’t dance, if he had a line it was lucky. But in the motion picture I was involved in everything, even the big dance number, and I think that was all because (the director) saw that magic between Ann and myself.”
Later in 1963, Rydell had one of his biggest – and last — hits, “Forget Him.”
Then, along came 1964 and the Beatles.
Suddenly, all those Bandstand teen idols seemed hopelessly outdated. Ironically, Paul McCartney was a fan of Rydell’s music.
Rydell states on his Facebook page that McCartney said in “The Beatles Anthology” that Rydell was an inspiration for a lot of the “Yeah Yeah’s” used in “She Loves You. (In “Swingin School,”’ the chorus goes: “yeah, yeah, yeah, I go to swingin’ school.”)
Rydell’s Facebook page states McCartney also said that a Rydell song “Forget Him” was the original inspiration for actually writing “She Loves You.” Rydell states McCartney had the idea to write an answer song to “Forget Him” and “She Loves You” was born.
Despite the lack of hit records, Rydell kept singing and performing over the past six decades. He often appears with Fabian and Frankie Avalon as the Golden Boys of Bandstand. Rydell gained more pop culture fame in the play and movie “Grease.” The place where all the greasers go to class is Rydell High School.
“I don’t know why Rydell High was named after me,” he told Senior Directory. “It could have been Presley High, Everley High, Avalon High, or Fabian High, but they picked my name to use.
“ My dear friend Frankie Avalon was in the motion picture. He played Teen Angel and did that great number ‘Beauty School Dropout.’ Consequently, little kids who probably are unaware of me sometimes become aware of me because they used my name in ‘Grease.’”
Rydell’s book, “Teen Idol On The Rocks” will surprise some fans. The book details that the clean cut, handsome singer didn’t always live up to that image.
“It is a very personal – and often-painful – story,” states an online promo for the book. “Bobby delves into the darker and more dramatic aspects of his life, including the death of his beloved first wife, Camille, his decades of alcohol abuse, and the last-ditch transplant surgery that saved his life.” It also includes the story of his first teenage sexual encounter and how a Philadelphia mob boss helped him land a movie acting job.
It’s all part of the Bobby Rydell story. He did remarry to a nurse named Linda in 2007, after his first wife, Camille, died in 2003.
Rydell doesn’t live in the past. He has been blessed with a second chance to live and that is theme of his book and life. He sums it up in one word: “surviving.