Bobby Darin was born Walden Robert Cassotto on May 14, 1936. Growing up in a rough section of the Bronx, New York, Bobby barely survived several serious bouts of rheumatic fever that left him with a damaged heart (which undoubtedly contributed to his early death). Bobby’s ambition was to become a legend by the time he was 25.
Thinking that his damaged heart would eventually kill him, he planned to live life as fully as he could. One story is that he got his new last name, “Darin”, from a neon sign on a Chinese restaurant that was supposed to say “Mandarin” but the first three letters were burned out (another story is that he got it out a phone book). Bobby taught himself to play the drums, piano and guitar. In his late teens he met fledgling music publisher Don Kirshner in a candy store, and the two soon got together and collaborated on commercial jingles. Kirshner helped arrange a trial run at Atco Records.
In 1958, after several forgettable recordings, Bobby Darin came up with his first big hit, “Splish Splash”, which he claimed took only 12 minutes to write. “Mack the Knife”, climbed to the top-ten music charts the following year. Bobby moved to Hollywood in 1960, and met and later married his wife Sandra Dee. He starred with her in Cuando llegue septiembre (1961) and received an Oscar nomination for his role in Capitán Newman (1963).In the mid-1960s Bobby Darin made several movies (garnering especially good reviews for his performance in the World War II drama Comando (1962)), toured college campuses and played in Las Vegas. His song “If I Were a Carpenter”, written by Tim Hardin, shot to #8 in 1966. However, after his divorce from Sandra, Bobby Darin went into a career decline. In 1968 he worked tirelessly for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, despite his heart condition. After Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in June 1968 Bobby, disillusioned with life in general and the state of the world in particular, retreated from the entertainment world. He sold his house and all his possessions, and lived in seclusion in a mobile home in Big Sur. After a year away from the public eye, Bobby Darin realized that he couldn’t deny his talent to the public and returned to the recording industry in 1969, and started his own record company, Direction Records, releasing an album “Born Walden Robert Cassotto”.He married for the second time and returned to performing on the Las Vegas stage, although he was less driven to it than he had been because of his failing heart. In January 1971 he suffered a mild heart attack and underwent open-heart surgery to have two artificial valves planted in his heart. After spending most of the year in ill health, Bobby Darin gradually recovered and returned to the stage. By 1973 his life seem to be back on track. In December the artificial valves in his weakening heart malfunctioned and he checked himself into Los Angeles’ Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for another round of open heart surgery for the valves to be replaced.
On December 20, 1973, the surgery began. A five-man surgical team worked for over six hours to save his life. But although the surgery was partially successful, Bobby Darin died literally minutes afterward in the recovery room without regaining consciousness. One of the doctors’ diagnoses of Bobby’s death was that he was just too weak to recover. There was no formal funeral ceremony. He willed that his body be donated to the UCLA Medical Facility for research.