Bobby Rydell, Teenage Idol With Enduring Appeal, Dies at 79

He had his first hit in 1959. Six decades later, teamed with his fellow singers Frankie Avalon and Fabian, he was still drawing crowds. – 

Bobby Rydell, a Philadelphia-born singer who became a teenage idol in the late 1950s and, with his pleasant voice, stage presence and nice-guy demeanor, maintained a loyal following on tours even after both he and his original fans were well past retirement age, died on Tuesday in Abington, Pa. He was 79.– 

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Maria Novey, a spokeswoman. Mr. Rydell and two other affable performers who became stars in those years, Frankie Avalon and Fabian, grew up within about two blocks of one another in South Philadelphia.

Long after their days on the pop chart were past them, they enjoyed great success on the oldies circuit. The three had toured extensively together since 1985, billed as the Golden Boys.

Mr. Rydell did not just have staying power; he also made a comeback after years of alcohol abuse, which he chronicled in his autobiography, “Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol on the Rocks” (2016), written with the guitarist and producer Allan Slutsky.

Near death, he had a kidney and liver transplant in July 2012. By that October he was back, singing on a cruise ship with Mr. Avalon. But five months later, he underwent cardiac bypass surgery. Some of his later appearances were charity promotions for organ donation.

By 2014, his schedule was heavy again, including 11 concerts in Australia that February. He continued to perform for the rest of his life.

Mr. Rydell’s recording prime encompassed the era roughly between 1959, when Elvis Presley was in the Army and Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, and 1964, when Beatlemania hit America. It didn’t hurt that Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” was broadcast in those years from Philadelphia, the home of Mr. Rydell’s label, Cameo Records.

Mr. Rydell’s repertoire included plaintive love ballads; slow, danceable tunes; occasional frenetic rockers like “Wild One” and “Swingin’ School”; and ageless songs like Domenico Modugno’s 1958 hit “Volare,” which became Mr. Rydell’s signature song in his later touring years.

Mr. Rydell was a pop phenomenon but hardly a cutting-edge rock star. Still, he sold a lot more records than some of those who were. Over the course of his recording career he placed 19 singles in the Billboard Top 40 and 34 in the Hot 100.

His name alone could conjure up an entire era: The 1970s rock musical “Grease,” in both its Broadway and movie versions, was set in 1959 at the fictional Rydell High School.

Mr. Rydell’s 1963 song “Wildwood Days” paid homage to Wildwood, the New Jersey beach town where his grandmother had a boardinghouse and he spent his early summers; like Philadelphia, Wildwood later held an honorary street-naming for Mr. Rydell.

Unlike some of the other pretty faces of his era, Mr. Rydell was a real musician. His father, a fan of the big bands, would take him as a child to see Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. At age 6, he told his father he wanted to play the drums like Gene Krupa, and he was singing in local nightclubs a year or two later.