Rydell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. In 1950, he won a talent show on the television series Paul Whiteman's TV Teen Club and gained a spot on the cast, where he remained for several years. He changed his name to Bobby Rydell and played in several bands in the Philadelphia area. After three unsuccessful singles for small companies, he signed a recording contract with Cameo Records. After a couple of flops, "Kissin' Time" reached the charts in 1959. In May 1960, Rydell toured Australia with The Everly Brothers, Billy "Crash" Craddock, Marv Johnson, The Champs and The Crickets, recording an Australian version of "Kissin' Time" for the event.
His second success, "We Got Love", was his first million-album seller, gaining gold disc status. His 1960's "Wild One", backed with "Little Bitty Girl", was his second million-selling single; his successes continued with "Swingin' School" backed with "Ding-A-Ling", and the million-album selling Volare later that year. He performed at the Copacabana in New York in 1961, where he was the youngest performer to headline at the nightclub. In February 1961 he appeared at the Festival du Rock, at the Palais des Sports de Paris in Paris, France.
Rydell's success and prospects led his father, Adrio, a foreman at the Electro-Nite Carbon Company in Philadelphia, to resign in 1961 after 22 years to become his son's road manager.
Rydell released the song "Wildwood Days" in 1963. That year he played Hugo Peabody in the movie version of Bye Bye Birdie with Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke. The original stage production of Bye Bye Birdie had no real speaking role for the character of Hugo, but the movie script was rewritten specifically to expand the part for Rydell. In 2011, Sony Pictures digitally restored this film. Rydell and Ann-Margret were in attendance at the restoration premiere in Beverly Hills by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
During the 1960s, Rydell had numerous hit records on the Billboard Hot 100 record chart. His recording career earned him 34 Top 40 hits, placing him in the Top 5 artists of his era (Billboard). These included his most popular successes, "Wild One" (his highest scoring single, at number 2), "Volare" (number 4), "Swingin' School" (number 5), "Kissin' Time" (number 11), "Sway" (number 14), "I've Got Bonnie" (number 18) and "The Cha-Cha-Cha" (number 10). His last major chart success was "Forget Him", which reached number 4 on the Hot 100 in January 1964. The song, written by Tony Hatch, was his fifth and final gold disc winner. Rydell left Cameo-Parkway Records later in 1964 and signed with Capitol Records.
During this time, he performed on many television programs, including the Red Skelton Show, where a recurring role was written for him by Red Skelton as Zeke Kadiddlehopper, Clem Kadiddlehopper's younger cousin. He also appeared on the Danny Thomas Show, Jack Benny, Joey Bishop, and The George Burns Show. Rydell was a regular on The Milton Berle Show. And was a panel member of "To Tell the Truth" in 1964.
On October 6, 1964, he made a guest appearance on the episode 'Duel' of the television series Combat!. This was Rydell's first dramatic acting role.
In January 1968, it was announced in the UK music magazine NME that Rydell had signed a long term recording contract with Reprise Records company. He continued to perform in nightclubs, supper clubs and Las Vegas venues throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but his career was hampered by Cameo-Parkway catalogue owner ABKCO Records' refusal to reissue Rydell's music, so the entire catalog was unavailable until 2005 (although he re-recorded his hits in 1995 for K-Tel Records).
Rydell was married to his first wife, Camille Quattrone Ridarelli from 1968 until her death in 2003. He remarried in 2009, to Linda Hoffman. Rydell continued to perform as a solo act and has toured as part of The Golden Boys stage production since 1985 (with Frankie Avalon and Fabian). However, Rydell cancelled his 2012 Australia tour because his health had deteriorated significantly and he was in need of urgent major surgery. On July 9, 2012, he underwent a double organ transplant to replace his liver and one kidney at Thomas Jefferson University in his hometown of Philadelphia. In January 2013, six months after double transplant surgery, Rydell returned to the stage in Las Vegas for a three night engagement to a sold out audience. He continues to perform internationally and he returned to tour Australia in 2014.
In both the Broadway musical drama Grease and the film Grease, the high school was named "Rydell High" after Rydell.
In 2000 in the book, The Beatles Anthology (pg. 96), Paul McCartney said: "John (Lennon) and I wrote 'She Loves You' together. There was a Bobby Rydell song out at the time and, as often happens, you think of one song when you write another. We’d planned an 'answering song' where a couple of us would sing 'she loves you' and the other ones would answer 'yeah yeah.' We decided that was a crummy idea but at least we then had the idea of a song called "She Loves You." So we sat in the hotel bedroom for a few hours and wrote it—John and I, sitting on twin beds with guitars."
No specific song title is given in The Beatles Anthology, but Bob Spitz writes in The Beatles: The Biography that McCartney originally modeled "She Loves You" on the Rydell "answering song" called "Swingin' School" (and not "Forget Him", as is commonly cited).
† Chubby Checker and Bobby RydellThe Lady from Peking (1975)
Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
Combat!: The Duel (1964)