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The Bobby Darin Story

A personal recollection

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A shot of Darin in the early Sixties
The following was sent to me by Jay Tell, friend of the late great Bobby Darin; it's a recollection he completed upon the 30th anniversary of Darin's untimely death in December 1973. Oldies at About.com presents it here in its entirety, because we find it moving. It has been edited slightly for form, but not content. It was updated in November 2004.

The following does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Robert Fontenot or About.com; permission to reprint this article lies solely with Mr. Tell, who may be reached at [b]jaytell@hotmail.com. I'd like to thank Jay Tell for contributing this eulogy to the site.

Can it be 30 years since Bobby Darin’s untimely passing? Walden Robert Cassotto was born May 14, 1936 in the Bronx, New York. As a boy he yearned for fame and a show business career, searched the phone book, and became Bobby Darin. Bobby tragically left us on December 20, 1973, too young, only 37, before he could embrace his future, before we fully appreciated the Darin treasure and mystique. I knew Bobby 10 years, 1963 to 1973. During his last four exciting years we were close friends and business partners. I was editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Free Press and owned Nevada’s first health food restaurant, Food For Thought.

Childhood rheumatic fever had damaged Bobby Darin’s heart. Born during the Depression, his family was one of millions on welfare, in dire hardship. But unlike other kids, at the age of 13 he overheard the doctor telling his family Bobby would not live past 16. He knew someday he’d need high-risk open-heart surgery, but delayed it for years hoping for medical advancements. This cruel sword over his head sparked Bobby’s frantic work ethic and tireless ambition, his quest to be "the best ever." He attacked life and career knowing he had so little time.

"We were so poor my cradle was a cardboard box," he told me. Bobby grew up in a run-down Bronx tenement near Harlem. An undernourished and sickly boy, he was determined to escape poverty. In 1959 he told Life Magazine, “I want to be a legend by 25.” He truly didn’t think he’d last beyond 30. I asked Bobby if he’d like a hobby, as an outlet for his obvious stress. Since 1958 I’ve been a rare stamp and coin dealer (Americana Stamp & Coin Galleries, Inc.), so it was a natural question. He replied "I don’t have the time," but I thought he meant time from his career. Later I realized he had been subtly trying to prepare me, he knew he was really running out of time.

Bobby’s pain and shortness of breath worsened in 1971. He agreed to long-dreaded open-heart surgery. I got chills when he said "Jay, I’m toast, my chance for survival is 10%." He sold or gave away possessions. I refused gifts, assuring him (and myself) all would be just fine. During stage shows he created clever false-endings, dashing to the side for a quick oxygen fix, without the audience knowing. He wanted adulation, respect, love, but not sympathy.

Dick Clark rejected "Mack the Knife," a song from the musical Threepenny Opera, and urged Bobby not to record that tune. Bobby’s other advisors unanimously said his loyal "Splish Splash," "Dream Lover" fans would resent a non-rock song. But in 1959 Bobby had guts and followed his own instincts. He liked "Mack"s offbeat jazzy tempo and sharp, dark, violent lyrics. At age 23 he refused to "play it safe" and that single decision changed his life. "Mack the Knife" rose to Number One nationally for an amazing nine consecutive weeks, and was in the Top Ten for 22 weeks!

He won Record of the Year and two Grammy Awards. He soon had primetime network television shows, mainstream radio play, swank nightclub dates and posh resort bookings. Bobby was the youngest-ever headliner at the prized Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, where in 1962-63 I was a busboy and waiter. The Sands was the center of show business, home of the notorious "Rat Pack" of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. "Mack" transformed Bobby from a rock star to an international musical icon. National Public Radio added Bobby’s version to "The 100 Most Important Musical Works of All Time." It has sold in the tens of millions and is Bobby Darin’s signature classic, his crowning lifetime achievement, his timeless contribution to our culture.

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