Bobby Rydell, 1960s Pop Idol and Star of ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ Dies at 79

Bobby Rydell, the epitome of the early ’60s “teen idol,” who parlayed that image into a starring role in the 1963 film “Bye Bye Birdie,” died today at age 79.

His death just days away from his 80th birthday was confirmed by radio legend Jerry Blavat, Rydell’s longtime friend from the singer’s South Philadelphia stomping grounds.

Rydell’s fame as the epitome of an American teen pop star in the days before rock’s British Invasion was such that Rydell High School in the film “Grease” was named after him.

Born Robert Louis Ridarelli on April 26, 1942, Rydell started singing and playing drums at age 6, and by 7, began performing professionally in nightclubs in the Philly/South Jersey area at the urging of his father.

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Bobby Rydell portraits at home in Bryn Mawr, Pa on April 18, 2016 MediaPunch

In 1950, Rydell won a talent show during the television series “Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club” and became a regular on the program. After three years as part of Whiteman’s singing on-air crew, the vocalist/drummer changed his name to “Rydell,” and began playing for local bands such as Rocco and the Saints (an ensemble that also featured another South Philly friend, Frankie Avalon, as its trumpeter).

After having tried his luck with a handful of unsuccessful singles for small, independent labels, Rydell signed with Philadelphia’s Cameo Records (eventually Cameo/Parkway) and hit the charts with “Kissin’ Time” in 1959. With that single, and its follow-ups, “We Got Love” (his first million seller), “Wild One,” “Swingin’, and his take on the classic, “Volare,” Rydell became a bona-fide teen idol.

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Ann-Margret, right, and Bobby Rydell dance during a scene from “Bye Bye Birdie” on the movie set in Hollywood, Ca., Sept. 14, 1962. It was the first film for actor-singer Bobby, 20, and the second for actress Ann-Margret, 21. (AP Photo) ASSOCIATED PRESS

By 1961, when Rydell performed a show at the Copacabana in New York City in 1961, Rydell became the youngest performer to ever headline at the famed nightclub, therefore cementing his status with Rat Pack fans as well as teen crowds (In 1961, he also appeared at the Festival du Rock, at the Palais des Sports de Paris in Paris, France, which cemented his relationship with European and British audiences for whom he would headline cabaret gigs through to the present).

In 1963, he recorded the single “Wildwood Days,” and played the role of Hugo Peabody in the film version of the Elvis-goes-to-the Army satirical musical “Bye Bye Birdie” with Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke.

By the next year, Rydell would leave Cameo-Parkway Records for Capitol Records, the same label that his soon-to-be rivals in the Beatles appeared. Ceding their popularity to all things mop-top, Rydell, Avalon and the rest of the clean-cut teen idol crew became lounge singers in Las Vegas and on the international touring circuit.

Rydell toured as a solo act until the present day, and as part of the Golden Boys stage production since 1985 (with Frankie Avalon and Fabian, who were readying a spring and summer tour for 2022).