LOS ANGELES--Bobby Darin, the brash and ambitious singer who wanted to be a legend at 25, is dead at 37.
Darin died December 20th at Cedars Of Lebanon Hospital of heart failure, in the course of his second open-heart surgery in two years. Darin, a victim of rheumatic fever three times as a child, had apparently recovered from the first operation when he contracted a blood disease months ago.
"It was senseless that he died," said David Gershenson, a friend of Darin's since 1958."It goes back to some dental work. Anyone who's had open-heart surgery or rheumatic fever--with dental work you have to have massive antibotics to fight infection. For some reason the dentist didn't give him the antibotics, and he got septicemia--an infection of the bloodstream attached to his heart."
During the 1971 surgery, Darin had two heart valves replaced and now, with septicemia, his heart was pumping out of rhythm, he was having difficulty breathing and he began losing weight. Over eight months, he visited doctors regularly and was hospitalized for six weeks last spring.
Finally, suffering from what Gershenson called "general malaise and lack of functioning", Darin went to the hospital December 19th. After some eight hours of surgery, the singer's heart gave way. His niece and two friends were at the hospital at the time. Darin is survived by two former wives-Sandra Dee, with whom he had a son, Dodd now 12, and Andrea Yeager, whom he married only last June. They were divorced in November.
There were no services for Darin, he had directed that his body be donated to the medical school of UCLA.
Darin died during his last comeback in a career wracked with as many changes and frustrations as his personal life and medical history. He has just received his release from Motown Records, and another friend and manger, Steve Blauner, was talking to producer Richard Perry about cutting a new album. Darin had also signed a $2 million deal with MGM's new Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, said Blauner, for 27 weeks of work over three years.
Born Walden Robert Cassotto, Darin left Hunter College after a semester and a half to try show business. On March 10, 1956, he got spot on the Dorsey Brothers TV show. A year later he signed with ATCO, where he was luckless until in 1958 president Ahmet Ertegen decided to produce him. Overnight, Darin wrote and recorded "Splish Splash" followed by "Queen of the Hop."
But Darin, at age 23, older than most of the reigning teen idols of the late fifties, wanted something more. He made the album That's All, which included "Mack the Knife" and "Beyond the Sea." Both became hits and he won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist of 1959. He quickly moved into the Las Vegas circuit and in 1960 began an acting career as well, winning an Academy Award nomination and the French Film Critics Award for Best Actor in Captain Newman, M.D. He married Sandra Dee, his first leading lady in 1960, and his native brashness began to get him some publicity he would soon regret.
"Bobby made great copy," said Blauner. "Shana Alexander did a story on him in Life Magazine, and he made this remark about wanting to be a legend at age 25. It was tongue in cheek, definitely. But they pulled that out as the banner line over the story."
"Then, after the Grammy, Vernon Scott (of UPI) asked him, 'Do you want to be as big as Sinatra?' and Bobby said something like, 'No, I want to be the biggest Bobby Darin I can be, the best Bobby Darin in the world. '"He was then reported, according to Blauner, to have said, 'I hope to be the biggest in the world, bigger than Sinatra.'"
As part of a the effort to reach a larger, general audience, Darin left Atco records for Capitol. His hits continued as he he moved from pop and rock to country and folk stylings. "Things" and "You're the Reason I'm Living" were among his hits. In 1965, he returned to Atlantic, where he again cut a wide range of material, including an album produced by Charles Koppleman-Don Rubin, (the team associated with the Lovin Spoonful and Tim Hardin). Here, Darin did Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," a number of fine songs of his own and Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," a 1966 hit. That year he was divorced from Miss Dee.
Darin went through a major change after meeting the late Senator Robert Kennedy. "He campaigned for him," said Blauner. "He'd be on the plane with him and they'd sing together. When the assassination happened, Bobby freaked out. He went to the graveside to wait for ther body. He went over to Ressurrection City and played for people there. He told me he had a vision at the gravesite -- some weird religious experience that made him stop working."
Darin sold all his possessions and took off for Big Sur, on the California coastline, where he lived in a trailer home for a year. He would go to the library at Carmel to read.
In 1969, back to Los Angeles, Darin formed his own record company, Direction. He now was wearing blue jeans and was back on club stages working with a simple backup band. He wrote protest songs and fought with Jackie Gleason, over a song he had written about the discovery of bodies at an Arkansas prison farm that he wanted to sing on Gleason's TV show. He put out an album, Born Walden Robert Cassotto.
Darin wanted an acceptance he never received. Blauner said he advised Darin against the various shifts. "But he just loved music. He said if people couldn't accept him for what he was, it was their problem." Darin had his own: his heart. And after the first operation had been declared a success, he bounced back, into clubs, into a tuxedo, into a strong brass backup sound. "Bobby," said Gershenson, "had resolved the fact in his own heart that the kind of human being you are is not changed or defiled in any way by the clothes you wear." He got his own lifetime ambition: a TV show of his own, a summer replacement show for Dean Martin in 1972. He seemed to be on his way again.
Dick Clark was a friend of Darin's back when Bobby was on Decca, without hits. "I used to laugh when people told me how Bobby was an arrogant little son of a bitch," said Clark, "but if you knew him he was the kindest, gentlest person. He had a great native intellect, and if he was only healthy physically, he probably could have gone on to be a legend."
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