bobby rydell

Ron Onesti: From a Rydell “High” to a Major Low

I hate this.

Bobby Rydell, the pop star, actor and just a wonderful guy, has passed.  He was 79. He joins the many legends and icons we have lost in the recent months that has truly hit us music fans hard.

Growing up in an Italian American household in the ’60s and ’70s, aside from Frank, Dean and Tony, the guys who 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, Bobby has always been special with an amazing smile, a warm demeanor, and a memory-laden show.  He appeared at The Arcada just a few months ago.

I gotta tell ya, it was nothing short of wonderful!

Bobby’s future was somewhat uncertain a few years ago 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 after that, 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?” His 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 like 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.  We will miss that smile.