Bobby Riddle, the young 1960s rocker who appeared in the 1963 musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie, is gone. He was 79 years old.
According to Variety, the cause of death was pneumonia. He passed away just weeks before his 80th birthday on April 26.
Triple Threat from Philadelphia, born Robert Louis Ridarelli, was famous for rock-and-roll hits like “Volari” and “Wild One”, and worked alongside Anne Margaret, Dick Van Dyck and Janet Lee at the Oscar-nominated “By Bye Birdie.”
CBS3’s Ukee Washington at Philly shared the news via social media on Tuesday. “The legend of Philly’s music… has vanished. Sending a prayer of comfort, strength and love to the family and fans of Bobby Riddle” he wrote on Twitter.
The vibrant beaches of nearby Wildwood, New Jersey, were where Riddell was inspired to sing “The Wildwood Days.” The hometown hero now bears the namesake for several streets around both Philadelphia and Wildwood. He is said to have grown up in the same neighborhoods as Frankie Avalon and Fabian, other singers of the era.
In a 2016 interview, he said that “Wildwood Day sums up his personal life best, calling it ‘the national anthem of the [New Jersey] support.” But he added that most people know him because of “Volari,” calling it “my open music and my music.”
He also rejected suggestions that he was one of the pioneers of rock music of his generation.
“I wasn’t really a rock ‘n’ roll singer,” Riddell said in the same interview. “That’s what you had to do to make it happen. I’m a young American songwriter.”
On his way to selling over 25 million records, he toured for most of his career as part of a stage production of The Golden Boys, along with fellow Philadelphia teen idols Frankie Avalon and Fabian.
His influence on popular music will continue to be felt for generations, with Paul McCartney reportedly crediting Rydell’s Swinging School as the inspiration for the Beatles’ “She Loves You”—specifically the lyric “Yeah Yes Yes”, used by Riddle in the 1960 song “Swingin’ School” .
And Rydell High from “Grease” – this is also a nod to Bobby, who admitted that conductor Benny Goodman became his inspiration after seeing him orchestrate with his father as a child.
“I don’t know his name, dad, but I want to be that guy. Riddle said he told his dad.
But many fans remembered him for his “Bye Bye Birdie” dance scene alongside Ann-Margret on “A Lot of Livin’ To Do.” The irony: he didn’t consider himself just a musician.
“I’ve never been a dancer. And by that, I mean I’ve never put on taps. I’ve never been a soft-spoken type of guy, but I’ve always been a fairly good drive, and everything in it.” He said in a 2020 interview, “Bye bye Bye Birdie” are all moves. “Shoulders, legs… It took two weeks to work on it, and two more weeks to shoot it. It was a very intense number, with all these different camera angles, and close-ups.”
With the publication of his 2016 memoir, “Bobby Riddle: Teen Idol On The Rocks: A Tale of Second Chances,” he told an interviewer that the performance had been in his blood from a young age.
“It’s been my life for seven years,” said Riddle, who has been a frequent guest on variety shows hosted by the likes of Red Skelton, George Burns, Jack Penny and Danny Thomas. “I can’t complain at all about my career. You know, I’ve had ups and downs, peaks and valleys, etc. and so forth. But I’ve survived it all, and I keep doing what I really enjoy.”
In 2012, he underwent a two-organ transplant to replace his liver and kidney and was back on stage within six months.