Bobby Darin was an extraordinary Italian American singer, songwriter and actor. Darin is one of the most prolific entertainers of all time. He performed pop, rock, jazz, and folk music.
Darin was born on May 14, 1936 in Manhattan's East Harlem neighborhood, which was a big Italian community at the time. His real name was Walden Robert Cassotto. He was raised in a tough neighborhood in the South Bronx by his grandmother, Vivian Cassotto, whom, as a child, Darin was told was his mother and not his grandmother. Darin’s real mother was Nina Cassotto, Vivian’s daughter. Nina became pregnant with Bobby in the summer of 1935 when she was 17. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies were considered scandalous during that time so Nina and her mother created a plan to pass her baby off as Nina's younger brother. The secret plan worked. Darin did not find out the truth about his upbringing until 1968, when he was 32. Nina finally told Bobby the truth, which devastated him.
She refused to tell her son who she thought his biological father was but told other relatives after Darin's death. Nina told them that she had a fling with an Italian American named Anthony Grillo in the 1930s. Grillo was an associate of the Luciano crime family, which eventually became the Genovese crime family, after Vito Genovese became the boss.
Darin's maternal grandfather was Sam Cassotto. Sam was a soldier in the Luciano crime family. Darin never knew his grandfather Sam because he died in Sing Sing Prison of pneumonia a year before Darin's birth. Vivian, Sam's wife, was of English ancestry and a former vaudeville singer. Vivian always encouraged young Bobby to pursue a singing career.
Bobby suffered from poor health his entire life. He was as frail as an infant. He was stricken with recurring bouts of rheumatic fever that left him with a seriously 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 name that sounded more American.
In 1956, he signed a contract with Decca Records. After a little success, the label dropped him. Darin's luck started to change at the end of 1956, after a songwriter introduced him to George Scheck, the manager of Connie Francis at the time. Darin started 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, but they were only together for a short time. Her Italian father was not fond of Darin and did not approve of their relationship. But she never got over her love for him. She has said that not marrying Bobby Darin was the biggest mistake of her life.
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 3 on the pop charts in 1958. The song sold over 1 million copies. The following year, he recorded "Dream Lover," another huge hit that further increased his fame. The single made it to #2 on the pop charts. Later that year, he also recorded “Mack the Knife,” a song that has been recorded by many artists, included Louis Armstrong. It is one of Darin’s highest charting songs making it to #1 on the pop charts.
After briefly dating a film actress named Sandra Dee in 1960, he ended up marrying 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 1966 song “If I Were a Carpenter" was a top 10 hit for Darin. The song was written by legendary folk musician Tim Hardin. Johnny Cash also had a hit with it.
Darin became a political activist after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. 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 a 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 slipped into a coma on December 18. The incredible singer and entertainer died two days later. He was only 37. Darin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, which his son, Dodd, accepted on his behalf.