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April 05, 2022

Bobby Rydell, 'Wild One' singer and 'Bye, Bye Birdie' star, dies at 79

The South Philly native who became a teen idol remained a hometown hero well past his heyday in the 1960s

Singer, actor and South Philly-native Bobby Rydell died Tuesday, a few weeks short of his 80th birthday.

The one-time teen idol had many hit singles including "Wild One," "Swingin' School" and "Volare." His song "Wildwood Days," a hit about going down the shore to enjoy the summer, remains an anthem of summer in the region. 

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Rydell was born Robert Lewis Ridarelli in South Philadelphia in 1942 to Jennie and Adrio, a foreman at the Electro-Nite Carbon Co. until he quit to become his son's manager.

Rydell started playing music professionally as a drummer at age 9, but he got his big break in 1950 when he won a contest on jazz musician Paul Whiteman's "TV Teen Club," a talent and music show. As his career started to takeoff, Rydell dropped out of Bishiop Neumann High School.

He told Parade in 2016:

"I never went to any formal class reunions, but about four years after leaving high school, I went back and did a benefit for Bishop Neumann High School, which I left before graduating as my career was taking off. I waved my fee, and as a show of gratitude, they gave me my diploma and my class ring. Ever since, when I've run into classmates, I've never been treated like a star. I'm still Robert Ridarelli to them and that's wonderful, 'cause I've always been a neighborhood kind of guy. Like I always say, 'You can take me out of South Philly, but you can never take the South Philly out of me!'"

Rydell also was known for his role as Hugo Peabody in "Bye Bye Birdie," a critically-acclaimed 1963 romantic comedy. Peabody was the high school sweetheart of Kim MacAfee, played by actress Ann-Margaret.

Rydell went on to appear in several other movies, TV series and comedy specials during his career. Rydell High School, the fictional setting of the 1970s musical "Grease," was named after him.

His 1959 song "Kissin' Time" was the first of 34 hits to reach the Billboard Top 100. His highest-charting song was "Wild One" which reached No. 2 in 1960. He sold more than 25 million albums.  

Rydell's time in the national limelight fizzled out by the end of the 1960s, but he remained a popular hometown hero in Philadelphia.

The street where he grew up – the 2400 block of South 11th Street in Lower Moyamensing – was renamed Bobby Rydell Boulevard in 2013. There's also a street in Wildwood named after him.

Rydell never stopped performing. He was slated to sing at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City this summer.

In 2016, Rydell released an autobiography, "Teen Idol on the Rocks: A Tale of Second Chances," which detailed his struggles with alcohol and depression following the death of his first wife, Camille Quattrone Ridarelli, in 2003, and revealed that in 2012, Rydell received liver and kidney transplants as a result of damage he had done to those organs from drinking.

Rydell died of pneumonia complications at Abington-Jefferson Hospital, according to a statement released by his representatives. They were unrelated to COVID-19. 

He is survived by his wife, Linda J. Hoffman, son Robert Ridarelli, daughter Jennifer Dulin and five grandchildren.