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  • Life of Bobby Darin

    By David J. Domino

    Bobby Darin
    Bobby Darin was an extraordinary Italian American singer, songwriter, and actor. He performed pop, rock, jazz, and folk songs. Darin was born on May 14, 1936, in Manhattan's East Harlem neighborhood and was raised in the South Bronx. His given name was Walden Robert Cassotto. His grandmother, Vivian Cassotto, helped raise Bobby.

    As a child, Bobby was told that Vivian was his mother and not his grandmother. Her daughter, Nina Cassotto, was pregnant with Bobby in the summer of 1935. Nina was only seventeen when she had Bobby. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies were considered scandalous during that time, which is the main reason Nina, and her mother created a plan to pass her baby off as Nina's younger brother. The secret plan worked.

    Bobby's grandfather was Sam Cassotto. Sam was a soldier in the Luciano family. Darin never knew his grandfather as he died in Sing Sing Prison of pneumonia a year before Darin's birth. Vivian was Sam's wife. She was of English ancestry and a former vaudeville singer. Vivian always encouraged young Bobby to pursue a singing career. He did not find out the truth about his upbringing until he was thirty-two.

    Nina finally told Bobby the truth, which devastated him. Despite the fact that Nina refused to tell Bobby who his biological father was, she did tell other relatives after his death. Nina told them that she had a fling with a gangster named Anthony Grillo in the 1930s. Grillo was a soldier in the Luciano family, just like Darin's grandfather. That is possibly another reason it remained a secret.

    Bobby suffered from poor health his entire life. He was stricken with recurring bouts of rheumatic fever that left him with a weakened heart at 8-years-old. Doctors said that he would not live long.

    After graduating from high school in 1953, Darin attended Hunter College but dropped out after only a year. His desire to sing was strong, and college would have only gotten in the way of his dreams. He started singing popular Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby songs at restaurants and coffee houses in Manhattan in 1954. The following year, Darin started writing songs with a songwriter named Don Kirshner. He chose the surname Darin while looking through a phone book for a last name that sounded more American.

    In 1956, he signed a contract with Decca Records. After not having much success, the label dropped him, but his luck started to change at the end of the year, when a songwriter introduced him to George Scheck, who was the manager of Connie Francis. Darin ended up writing songs for Connie. Around that same time, Darin and Kirshner had a falling out and ended their songwriting partnership.

    Bobby and Connie developed a romantic relationship, yet they were only together for a brief time. Her Italian father was not fond of Darin and did not approve of their relationship. Shortly after they broke up, Bobby signed a contract with Atlantic Records where he could write music for himself and other performers on the label.

    It was there that he wrote his first hit song "Splish Splash," which blasted to number three on the pop charts in 1958. The song sold over one million copies. The following year, he recorded "Dream Lover," another big hit that further increased his fame. The single made it to number two on the pop charts.

    Later that year, he recorded "Mack the Knife," a song that has been recorded by many artists, including Louis Armstrong. It is one of Darin's highest charting songs, that went to number one. After briefly dating a film actress named Sandra Dee in 1960, he decided to marry her. The following year, they had a son named Dodd.

    Darin starred in the 1961 film "Come September," along with Rock Hudson, Gina Lollobrigida, and Sandra Dee. He continued to record hits such as "Things" and "You're the Reason I'm Living." His song "If I Were a Carpenter" was a top ten hit in 1966. Country singer Johnny Cash also had a hit with it.

    Darin became a political activist after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. After Bobby and Sandra divorced in 1967, Darin traveled with Robert Kennedy and worked on the politician's 1968 presidential campaign. He was with Robert Kennedy when he was killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968. That event deeply affected him, causing Darin to drop out of show business for an entire year and move to Big Sur, CA.

    In 1971, surgeons implanted two artificial valves in his heart. On December 10, 1973, Darin called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Suffering from congestive heart failure, he ended up slipping into a coma. The incredible singer and entertainer died on December 20, 1973. He was only thirty-seven. Darin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, which his son, Dodd, accepted on behalf of his father.

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