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Bye Bye Birdie star Bobby Rydell dies aged 79

Rydell was among a wave of US teen idols who emerged after Elvis Presley and before the rise of The Beatles.

File image of Bobby Rydell in 2000.
File image of Bobby Rydell in 2000.
Image: LINDA SPILLERS

BOBBY RYDELL, A star of radio, television and the musical film Bye Bye Birdie, has died aged 79.

Rydell died of complications from pneumonia at a hospital in a suburb of his hometown of Philadelphia, according to a statement posted by his marketing and event coordinator Maria Novey.

Rydell credited a 2012 kidney and liver transplant with extending his life.

Along with James Darren, Fabian and Frankie Avalon, Rydell was among a wave of wholesome teen idols who emerged after Elvis Presley and before the rise of The Beatles.

Between 1959 and 1964, he had nearly three dozen Top 40 singles including Wild One, Volare, Wildwood Days, The Cha-Cha-Cha and Forget Him, a song of consolation for a bereft girl that helped inspire The Beatles’ classic She Loves You.

He had recurring roles on The Red Skelton Show and other television programs, and 1963’s Bye Bye Birdie was rewritten to give Rydell a major part as the boyfriend of Ann-Margret.

He did not want to move to Hollywood, however, and Birdie became his only significant movie role — though the high school in the hit 1970s musical Grease was named for him.

Rydell never strayed far from his Philadelphia roots, living in the area for most of his life. The block of 11th Street where he grew up was christened Bobby Rydell Boulevard by his hometown in 1995.

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“I never thought of myself as a celebrity,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2003. “I was just a guy who went out there and worked.”

He was born Robert Ridarelli in a South Philadelphia neighborhood that would also produce teen idols Darren, Fabian and Avalon. They knew each other as children — Rydell played drums with Avalon on trumpet in a group called Rocco and the Saints.

Rydell’s childhood sweetheart and first wife, Camille, died in 2003.

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