Throughout his career, Rydell earned a total of 29 chart entries on the Billboard Hot 100, beginning with 1959’s “Kissin’ Time.” His follow-up single, “We Got Love,” peaked at No. 6 as the singer’s first of six career top 10 hits during the early 1960s. Rydell’s highest-charting track was “Wild One,” which landed at No. 2 in the spring of 1960. Other successes included “Volare” (No. 4 in September 1960), “The Cha-Cha-Cha” (No. 10 in November 1962) and “Forget Him” (No. 4 in January 1964).
The singer’s image as the poster boy for pre-Beatles pop stardom also led to him landing the starring role in the 1963 big-screen adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie. In the movie musical, he played Hugo Peabody, the high school sweetheart of Ann-Margret‘s Kim McAfee, a teenager randomly chosen to get a goodbye kiss from Elvis Presley-style rock ‘n’ roll singer Conrad Birdie before he leaves for the Army. The film also starred Janet Leigh and Dick Van Dyke, and featured Ed Sullivan as himself.
Rydell’s legacy was also cemented in the 1971 stage musical Grease and its blockbuster 1978 film adaptation. Rydell High, the school attended by Danny, Sandy and the rest of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies, was named in his honor.
According to a report by Variety, the singer was remembered following his death by radio DJ and longtime friend Jerry Blavat, who grew up with him in South Philadelphia. “Out of all the kids, he had the best pipes and was the greatest entertainer,” the radio DJ said. “He told the best stories. did the best impersonations and was the nicest guy.”
Revisit “Wild One” below.