December 20, 1973 – Bobby Darin was born Walden Robert Perciville Cassotto on May 14, 1936. Darin rose from poor beginnings in Harlem and the South Bronx, New York where he fought rheumatic fever as a child, which damaged his heart and plagued him throughout his life. As a result of these obstacles, he worked extremely hard to overcome them. Knowing his life would not be a long one, his ambition to succeed was fueled by an overwhelming desire to make it big in show business. By the time he was a teenager he could play several instruments quite proficiently, including piano, drums and guitar, he later added harmonica and xylophone.
Wanting a career in the New York theater, he dropped out of college after a year to play small nightclubs around the city with a musical combo. In the resort area of the Catskill Mountains, he was both an entertainer and a busboy. For the most of his teenage years Bobby was a comedy drummer and an ambitious vocalist.
He started out, first as a demo writer then as a demo singer at the legendary Brill Building in New York City, along with future stars Connie Francis and Don Kirshner. Bobby’s manager arranged for him to help write several songs in order to help jump-start her singing career.
In 1957, he started recording for Decca, but found his first fame at ATCO Records in 1958, with the hit records “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover”, both of which he composed. Both were instant hits and he went on to have many hits including ‘Queen of the Hop’, ‘Mack The Knife’, ‘Beyond The Sea’, ‘Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey?’, ‘Clementine’, ‘You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby’, ‘Things’, and You’re the Reason I’m Living’, among many others. He recorded on several labels including a stint with Motown.
Late in 1958, Bobby Darin recorded the album That’s All, an LP of standards, upon the suggestion of his publicist and friend Harriet Wasser. This LP contained his signature song “Mack the Knife,” which won the 1959 “Record of the Year” and Darin the “Best New Artist” Grammy. “Mack the Knife” was number one on the Billboard charts for nine weeks in 1959 and is one of the biggest selling records in history. Bobby Darin was the first young singer to bridge the single record and album gap between the teenage and adult buying public.
Darin appeared in Las Vegas with his close friend Mr.George Burns in 1959, and began an exciting nightclub career. Managed by Steve Blauner, Darin, at the young age of 23, performed at many major night clubs in the country, such as The Flamingo, The Sands and The Hilton in Las Vegas, the Cloister in Los Angeles and the Copacabana in New York. Bobby not only sang, but did impressions and played several instruments in his concerts. He was popular with adults and teenagers alike at the clubs, breaking attendance records and performing to standing room only crowds. Darin had a personal magnetism, which seemed to draw fans and adulation as a magnet draws steel. He continued this part of his career up until August of 1973, when he was unable to continue because of illness.
A Movie Career
In another step of an amazing career that was very diversified, Darin proved he was a talented actor and appeared in thirteen motion pictures and was nominated for a Oscar for his outstanding performance in the film Captain Newman, M.D. (1963). For that role he won a French Film Critics Award for Best Actor. In 1962, he had contracts with Universal and Paramount studios and made a total of five motion pictures. He was awarded the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer, for his role in Pressure Point.
Bobby also appeared on many major television programs in the 1960s, showing his versatility in this field of entertainment. He displayed his remarkable drive and energy on many variety, comedy and drama programs. He hosted his own variety special in 1961 and at the time was the youngest person ever to do so. Bobby Darin also had his own NBC variety television show in 1972 and 1973.
Not only was Darin a talented singer, actor and musician, he also was a gifted composer, writing many of his own recordings. Among these include “Splish Splash,” “Early in the Morning,” “Dream Lover,” “That’s the Way Love Is,” “Multiplication,” “Things,” “As Long As I’m Singin’,” “Eighteen Yellow Roses,” “You’re the Reason I’m Living,” “If a Man Answers,” “Simple Song of Freedom,” “Somebody to Love,” “Treat My Baby Good,” “Two of a Kind” (with Johnny Mercer), “I’ll Be There,” and “When I Get Home.”
Bobby Darin also composed the score and theme to four of the thirteen motion pictures he acted in such as: If a Man Answers (1962), That Funny Feeling (1965) and Gunfight in Abilene (1967). He also wrote the score and music for the film The Lively Set (1964).
Bobby Darin’s singing career also included folk/country music. His recording of the Tim Hardin classic “If I Were a Carpenter” in 1966 opened up a whole new phase of his career. In 1968 and 1969, disturbed by the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy, whom he fiercely campaigned for, Darin wrote and recorded two protest albums of alternative rock music and found a new legion of fans in this area. He was able to combine all of these types of music in the early 1970s in his live performances with great success.
An uncanny knack for perfection and love for life were also evident as Darin worked behind the scenes in show business. He owned a highly successful music publishing business and gave of himself to help others. He was responsible for mentoring Wayne Newton, and getting Newton his start in the recording industry by giving him the song “Danke Schoen.” Bobby’s deep loyalty to many others was never ending and his countless friends included Dick Clark, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Williams, Elvis Presley, Flip Wilson, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mercer and Roger McGuinn. Bobby also was the Ambassador for the Heart Fund for the American Heart Association for many years and constantly gave to many other charities. After his death, his furniture and piano were donated to Regina Hall, a home for unmanageable girls in Las Vegas.
Darin’s personal life was as highly charged as his professional one. On December 1st 1960, he married actress Sandra Dee, who was his co-star in the film Come September and they had one son, Dodd Mitchell Darin, born on December 16, 1961. (Darin and Dee were divorced on March 7th, 1967. The marriage is well documented in the book Dream Lovers, written by their son.) Bobby was also married to legal secretary Andrea Joy Yaeger in 1973. They divorced shortly before his death.
In 1968, when he was considering a career in politics, Bobby discovered his “mother” Polly was actually his grandmother and his “sister” Nina was really his mother. This painful revelation altered him for the rest of his life.
Bobby Darin worked very hard to make it to the top and was often quoted by the press as saying he wanted to be a “legend by the time he was 25.” His many devoted fans believe he achieved this goal in record time. As he continued to give of his all to them, Darin’s life was cut short when he died following his second open heart surgery to repair a faulty heart valve. A five-man surgical team worked for over six hours to repair his damaged heart. However, although the surgery was initially successful, Bobby died minutes afterward in the recovery room without regaining consciousness. As in his life, he gave to others following his death, by leaving instructions for his body to be donated to UCLA’s Medical Center for research purposes. He died on Dec 20, 1973 at the age of 37.
In 1990 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2010 he was honored with the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, both of which his son Dodd accepted on his behalf. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame also in 1999.