Rydell had no trouble pinpointing the beginning of his booze-fueled downward spiral. It was the day in September 2003 that his childhood sweetheart and wife of 36 years, Camille, succumbed to breast cancer.
Despite his overwhelming grief, the South Philly native - one of the nation's hottest singing acts and teen idols (think Justin Bieber with a DA haircut) in the late 1950s and early '60s - continued his schedule of performances around the world. So over-the-edge was he that he never realized how much his drinking was affecting him.
"It almost ruined my career," he declared.
In January 2007, he was performing with his lifelong pal and fellow South Philly native Frankie Avalon at the Orleans hotel in Las Vegas. His manager taped the set, and when Rydell heard it, he was mortified. "I was . . . horrible, horrible," he recalled. "I thought, 'What am I doing to myself? I have a whole lot to give, but I'm cheating the people.' It just woke me up."
But there was another hurdle for Rydell to overcome. That winter, he was told he would need hip replacement surgery. Routine blood work revealed that his heavy drinking had seriously affected his health. "I was walking death," he said. "I weighed like 130 pounds."
Although it sounds like something out of a bad made-for-TV movie, faith and the love of a good woman helped Rydell get his life back on track.
"I just prayed to God, 'If you help me, I'll try my best to be the best person I can be,' " he said. As far as he's concerned, his prayers were answered when he met the woman who would become his second wife, Linda Hoffman.
Introduced by mutual friends in October 2007, the couple wed in Las Vegas in January 2009. Rydell finds it amusing that his wife shares the name of the longtime president of his fan club.
Making things more comical is that for years when she lived in Ambler, Rydell's future wife regularly received calls from fans looking for the other Linda Hoffman, a resident of nearby Dresher. The two women also shared a jeweler, doctor, dentist and dry cleaner.
"She had no idea who I was," he said, laughing. "Someone would call asking about the new [album] and she'd say, 'Bobby Rydell? Isn't he dead?' "
Not that things have gone perfectly since the nuptials for the singer born Robert Ridarelli. In August 2009, he was cited in Lower Merion for driving under the influence. In March 2010, he was accepted into Montgomery County's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, which allows first-time, nonviolent offenders to clear their records after a probationary period (in this case, one year).
Rydell said he has officially completed the program.
With his 69th birthday a month from tomorrow, Rydell is hardly putting the brakes on his career. Besides a regular schedule of concerts here and abroad (many with fellow "Golden Boys" Fabian and Avalon), he will be among veteran pop performers taping a PBS special April 1 at Caesars Atlantic City. And he is in discussions to portray a New Orleans mob boss in an independent film.
Rydell is particularly excited about his April 27 appearance at a panel event in Los Angeles celebrating the upcoming release of a remastered DVD version of the iconic 1963 film musical "Bye Bye Birdie." He played Hugo Peabody, boyfriend of Ann-Margret's character, Kim McAfee. He'll share the dais with the actress and the flick's leading man, Dick Van Dyke.
"I can't wait to see her," he said of his still-glamorous co-star. "They asked her to do this [event], and she said, 'I'll only do it if you include Bobby Rydell.' "
"The Golden Boys," House of Blues, Showboat, Boardwalk at Delaware Avenue, 7 tonight, $65, $50, $40 and $35, 609-236-2583, hob.com/atlanticcity.
'Bad' is great
Weep not for 25-year-old Jay R. Marlapudi of Trevose. Last Sunday afternoon, his four kings were beaten by a royal flush held by Walter Alexander Ayres of Cockeysville, Md., during a hand of $1-$2 no-limit Texas Hold'em at the Trump Taj Mahal poker room.
Marlapudi was awarded the second-biggest "bad beat" jackpot payoff in Atlantic City history. He received 50 percent of the near-record $668,141 (a cool $334,070.50). Besides "raking" the game pot, Ayres took a quarter of the prize, $167,035.25. The remaining 25 percent was split among the other players at the table - $23,862.18 each (before taxes, of course).
Amazingly, this big hit was book ended by two other bad beat payouts in three days. Last Saturday, $252,680 was paid out at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa. On Tuesday, the Tropicana had its jackpot cracked for just under $295,000.
Bad beat jackpots are awarded in Atlantic City when a player loses a hand holding four 2s or better. The record prize of $672,115 was won at the Taj in June 2010.
Chuck Darrow has been covering Atlantic City and casinos for over 20 years. Read
his blog www.philly.com/Casinotes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And listen to his Atlantic City reports
Saturdays at 1:45 a.m. with Steve Trevelise on WIP (610-AM) and 3:05 p.m.
on Atlantic City's WOND (1400-AM) with Marc Berman.