Bobby Rydell, who enjoyed numerous US hits during the teen pop craze of the early 1960s, has died aged 79. He suffered complications from pneumonia, and died in hospital in his native Philadelphia.
With songs of decorous romance sung in his clean, hearty voice, Rydell reached the US Top 10 five times – with We Got Love, Swingin’ School, his version of the standard Volare, Wild One (also a UK Top 10 hit) and Forget Him. The latter is believed to be the inspiration for the Beatles’ She Loves You after Paul McCartney said the song was inspired by an unnamed Rydell number.
Rydell had 29 other hits spanning raucous rock’n’roll to swooning, string-backed balladry, including numerous other pop standards such as That Old Black Magic, Sway and Jingle Bell Rock, as well as songs hymning his region, such as Wildwood Days, an ode to the seaside town in New Jersey, which stayed in the US charts for nine weeks.
Born Robert Ridarelli in 1942, Rydell’s first break came aged nine on the talent show Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club. He was an adept drummer as well as a singer, and his path crossed with that of another future teen heart-throb from Philadelphia, Frankie Avalon, in the group Rocco and the Saints, before Rydell became a solo singer.
Rydell toured Europe and Australia, and played New York’s renowned Copacabana nightclub. He made a brief jump to acting with a supporting role alongside Janet Leigh, Dick Van Dyke and Ann-Margret in the 1963 romantic comedy Bye Bye Birdie, but didn’t want to move to California to focus on a film career.
Like many of his teen-idol brethren, Rydell’s pop-cultural heft swiftly waned in the wake of Beatlemania and the British Invasion, but his career was sustained with music and acting appearances on numerous variety shows, most notably The Red Skelton Show. And buoyed by an enduring, increasingly nostalgic fanbase, he continued to tour for the rest of his life, such as in a trio with Frankie Avalon and Fabian as the Golden Boys of Bandstand. He also hopped on the late 70s disco craze, re-recording Sway in the style.
Among those paying tribute to Rydell was the writer Stephen King, who said he was among “the most talented of the 50s and early 60s teen idols”.