Bobby Rydell has performed many times in Las Vegas over a career that began in the early 1960s, but never off surviving double surgery for a liver and kidney transplant.
“I was really sick for a year,” Rydell said on my Las Vegas Backstage Talk Radio Show (KLAV 1230 AM Thursdays 6-7 p.m.). “I said to my wife, ‘It’s over! Get the will ready because I’m gone honey!’ The very next day, I got a call from Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia telling me to get in right away. That afternoon, I was in the OR for 20-plus hours.”
Rydell is back, performing the 7:30 p.m. shows Jan. 11-13 at the Suncoast in Summerlin. This will be Bobby’s first time performing a full hour-plus show in a year.
“I was home July 19 after 10 days in the hospital,” Rydell said. “I had no pain, no nothing. So God bless Jefferson Hospital, and their whole surgical team! I wasn’t scared because I was told I had only 2-3 weeks left to live if I didn’t have a liver transplant.”
Rydell will turn 71 on April 26. A native of Philadelphia, he was a teen idol in the era of Frankie Avalon and Fabian. The trio has kept their careers going all these years, often touring together for shows in Las Vegas.
During the 1960s, Rydell had numerous hits on the Billboard Hot 100, earning 34 Top 40 charts that placed him in the Top 5 artists of his era. “Wild One” was his highest scoring single at No. 2. “Volare” and “Forget Him” each went to No. 4, “Swingin’ School” at 5, “The Cha Cha Cha” at 10. Two others made the top 20. His popularity led to a prominent role in “Bye Bye Birdie” with Ann Margret, Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh.
Rydell is no stranger to playing Las Vegas. His first appearance here was back in ’60 or ’61, at the Sahara.
“I did two weeks with George Burns. I used to stand in the wings after I was done performing and just watch him – how he delivered a line, his timing.”
He worked with other icons such as Jack Benny, Perry Como and Red Skelton. He got teary-eyed when speaking of Skeleton, “the one guy who was really behind me.”
“I did 12 shows on the ‘Red Skelton Hour,’ years ago on CBS television,” Rydell said. “Red took me under his wing because he lost his son Richard at 15 years old due to leukemia.
“When I did his show I was 18 or 19 years old, and the producer of the show, Cecil Barker, said to me at rehearsal, ‘I understand you do an impersonation of Red.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I do Clem Kadiddlehopper.’ He said, ‘Can I hear it?’ So I did it. And Red was rehearsing and overheard me doing this. He started talking back to me as Clem Kadiddlehopper. Then…they wrote in a character, Zeek Kadiddlehopper, that was me, Clem Kadiddlehopper’s cousin.
“Those were great times!
“A few years back before he passed away, I went to see Red with my children. He was at Caesars in Atlantic City. He introduced me, and I went backstage. Then, you know how he does the silent things where he does the old man? I started crying,” he said while choking up.
“So I went backstage, and I said to Red, “You did it again. You made me cry.” He said, ‘Was I that bad?!’”
Success came at a young age, but so did struggles with cigarettes and drinking.
“I’ve been smoking since I was 10 years old,” Rydell said.
In 2007, Rydell met a girl who is now his wife of four years, who happens to be a nurse.
“If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. She saved my life.”
Bobby Rydell’s full interview will air this Thursday, from 6-7 pm PST.