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Bobby Darin

Bobby Darin (May 14, 1936 - December 20, 1973), born Walden Robert Cassotto, was one of the most popular rock and roll American teen idols of the late 1950s. However, he is widely respected for being a multi-talented, versatile performer.

Darin was born to a poor, working-class family in the Bronx, New York, and his father died a few months before he was born at the height of the Great Depression. As a result, his mother had to accept social assistance to take care of her infant son. It was not until he was an adult that he learned his sister Nina, 19 years his senior, was in fact his mother. The identity of his true father was never publicly disclosed.

Frail as an infant, perhaps from the poverty that resulted in a lack of proper diet and medical attention, at the age of 8 he was stricken with rheumatic fever. The illness left him with a seriously diseased heart, and he would live with the constant knowing that his life might end at any moment. Driven by his poverty and illness, and with an innate talent for musical sounds, by the time he was a teenager he could play several musical instruments.

After high school, Darin attended college on a scholarship. Wanting a career in the New York theater, he left college to play small nightclubs around the city with a musical combo. As was common with ethnic minorities at the time, he changed his Italian name and, in 1956, his agent negotiated a contract for him with Decca Records where Bill Haley & His Comets had risen to fame. However, this was a time when rock and roll was still in its infancy and the number of capable record producers and arrangers in the field was extremely limited. Like other performers, Darin was at first pigeon-holed, recording the banal, meaningless songs, popular with record executives at the time.

He left Decca to sign with Atlantic Records, where he wrote and arranged music for himself and others. There, after three mediocre recordings, his career took off in 1958 when he released his unique rock song "Splish Splash" that became an instant hit, selling more than a million copies (originally released under the name of Dickie Do and the Don'ts). This was followed by more hits recorded in the same successful style.

In 1959, Bobby Darin recorded "Dream Lover", a complex ballad that would become a multi-million seller and one that he is still remembered for to this day. With financial success came the ability to demand more creative control and, despite the objections of most everyone around him, Darinís immense and diverse talent came to the fore with his next record "Mack the Knife". Taken from Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera, Darin gave it a jazz-like melodic beat that had not been heard in popular music since Frank Sinatra's day. The song went to No. 1 on the charts, sold several million copies, and won the Grammy Award as Record of the Year. For his innovation, Darin was voted the Grammy as '"Best New Artist".

Driven by the inner urgency of a clock ticking away precious time, Darin turned his attention to motion pictures. He would write music for several films and act in them as well. In his first film, a romantic comedy designed to capitalize on his popularity with the teenage and young-adult audience, he co-starred with Sandra Dee, whom he married in 1960 and with whom he had one son.

Asking to be taken seriously, he took on more meaningful movie roles, and in 1962 he won the Golden Globe Award for "Most Promising Male Newcomer", for his role in Pressure Point. In 1963 he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a shell-shocked soldier in Capt. Newman M.D. At the Cannes Film Festival in France, where his records -- in particular his version of the French hit song "La Mer" (in America in English: "Beyond the Sea") -- brought him a wide following, he won the French Film Critics Award for Best Actor.

In the mid 1960s, Darin headlined at the major casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, and became politically active, working on the 1968 Presidential election campaign of Robert Kennedy. Profoundly affected by Kennedyís assassination, he made two protest albums of alternative rock music.

At the beginning of the 1970s he continued to act and to record, including at Motown Records. In 1971 he underwent his first heart surgery in an attempt to correct some of the heart damage he had lived with since childhood. In 1972 he was well enough to star in his own television variety show, on NBC, which ran for two years, until his health problems finally overcame him.

A goodwill Ambassador for the American Heart Association, on December 20, 1973, Darin died during surgery to repair a faulty heart valve. In accordance with his wishes, his body was donated to the UCLA Medical Center for research purposes.

In 1990, fellow 1950s rock and roll pioneer, Paul Anka, made the speech for Darinís induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1999 he was voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1735 Vine Street.