Backstage with Ron Onesti:
Getting a Rydell “High” at The Arcada
Growing up in an Italian-American household of the Sixties and Seventies, aside from Frank, Dean and Tony, the guys that kept our record players spinning were Frankie Avalon, Fabian, James Darren and Bobby Rydell. And as I have worked with the other guys on numerous occasions, I recently put on a show at The Arcada with Rydell, this being the first time working with the guy. I gotta tell ya, it was nothing short of wonderful!
Just a few short years ago, Bobby’s future was somewhat uncertain as in 2012 he underwent double organ transplant surgery, replacing his liver and his kidneys. Just prior to that, I was to have him along with his buddies, Frankie Avalon and Fabian, for their Golden Boys tour, which had to be canceled because of Bobby’s failing health. Truthfully, the outlook was grim.
So when he became available to me, I was somewhat reluctant to book him, but ultimately I thought, “I must do this … it’s Bobby Rydell!” And boy, was I glad I did.
The day arrived and I was called down to our dressing rooms: Bobby was here! I’m not sure what I expected, but after double organ transplant surgery, really, how good can he look? He looked amazing!
As we exchanged hellos, I told him I couldn’t get over how good he looked, and he said: “I can’t get over how much I miss drinking!” Then he said he never felt better, and that he owes his life to his 21-year-old angel, Julia, an automobile accident victim whose passing helped to save seven others’ lives. Now, he advocates for organ donors at all his shows.
I wasn’t sure if the “Rydell High” in the movie “Grease” was actually named after him. “I guess it was,” Bobby said. “I was 36 years old when that movie came out and I already had a high school named after me. Would you believe I have never seen the film?”
How many times have you eaten at an Italian restaurant and heard Dean Martin sing “Volare?” Martin’s version came out in 1958 and became one of Rydell’s mom’s favorite songs. As Bobby was putting his album together, his mom convinced Bobby to add a cover of her favorite tune, and “Volare” became Bobby’s biggest hit. Typical of an Italian son!
Guys like Avalon and Rydell represent that next generation of “cool” after Sinatra and Martin. They are still out there, performing in suits and tuxedos, still drawing screaming fans and swooning females. That Philadelphia sound made popular by Dick Clark and “American Bandstand” and fostered by those “Golden Boys” is as popular as ever.
Being “Backstage” with Bobby was a wonderful experience. He is a great guy who is as passionate about his career now as he ever was. I guess, going to a Bobby Rydell concert is actually graduating from “Rydell High.” Regardless, he is a living legend and a living example of a never-say-die attitude.
Thank you, Bobby, for all the hits, all the shows, and showing us that faith, hope and passion can actually work when the dawn appears to be at its darkest.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.