Bobby Rydell. One of those names probably every baby boomer remembers. Volare. Wild One. His songs were at the core of our youth. In the movie Grease, the high school was even named Rydell High. So it might surprise you to be reminded that Bobby Rydell — actually, he was born as Robert Ridarelli — today is 74. And from his home in the Philadelphia suburb of Narberth, Pennsylvania, he has written a book that gives us a look at the less famous part of a famous man’s life. Here’s an excerpt from “Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol On The Rocks: A Tale of Second Chances.”
If it hadn’t been for the antiseptic smell of the floors and walls, the corridor I was traveling down would have been unremarkable. I could have easily mistaken it for a service hallway leading to a showroom at the Sahara, the Sands, the Golden Nugget, or any one of the dozens of casinos I’d sung at throughout my career. But this was no ordinary walk toward a spotlight. I was en route to the biggest and most challenging performance of my life. I wasn’t walking; I was flat on my back on a hospital gurney, being wheeled into an operating room for double organ transplant surgery.
I was as calm and focused as I had ever been. It was spooky. There was no panic, no second guessing, and most of all, none of that whiny, “I used to be the biggest teen idol in America, I sold over 25 million records, met with kings, queens and presidents, sang for millions of adoring fans at thousands of concerts across the world . . . so how the hell did I get here?” kind of crap. I had no right to feel sorry for myself. I knew damn well how I had gotten where I was: Decades of drinking had ravaged my body and wrecked my liver and kidneys. I had no one to blame but yours truly.
A few days before, my doctors had told me I wouldn’t live out the week. And then a Hail Mary pass arrived out of nowhere. Someone else’s tragic death had provided me with a second chance at life and salvation. A liver and kidney had turned up that were the match the medical staff at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital had been searching for.
I figured I had nothing to lose. I’d never had stage fright in my entire career so I sure wasn’t going to start having it now. I could read the cards. It was simple: I was either going to make it through this surgery or I wasn’t. Until that point came, I still had business to conduct. There was one date remaining on my tour schedule: I was supposed to perform on a cruise ship sailing the Caribbean in three months. I thought it over, and being a gambling man, decided to bet on me. Just as I was wheeled into the operating theater, I smiled at my wife, Linda, gently squeezed her hand and said, “I’m gonna make that cruise.”