Darin was raised to believe his grandparents were his actual parents. He extremely close with his “mother” Vivian Fern, a fun-loving vaudeville singer, and was devastated when, at 32 years old, he was told the truth about his birth. He grew up with an older sister, Giovannina “Gina” Cassotto, with whom he had a close bond, but he never would he imagine that it was Gina who was his biological mother. He only learned of this relationship in 1968, and it was a hard lie to grow up with. But, he did eventually realize that, in 1936, a young, unwed girl could not have a child on her own. He eventually acknowledged the maternal relationship with Gina.
Darin was born weak and frail. At age eight, he struggled through recurring bouts of rheumatic fever, leaving him with a very weak heart. He wouldn’t have heart surgery until January 1971, when doctors made an attempt to mend some of the heart damage he had lived with since childhood. Darin spent that year recovering from the surgery. By the end of his career, he would have an oxygen tank just off the stage when needed.
With Vivian’s encouragement, the young Darin was playing several instruments by the time he hit his teens, including piano, guitar, and drums. Later he would pick up the xylophone and harmonica. Darin was able to graduate from the esteemed Bronx High School of Science.
Darin started out his musical career by writing songs for Connie Francis (the two would have a romantic relationship during this period, and, later in her life, she wrote that her biggest regret was that she did not marry Darin).
He went on to record his own major hit, ‘Splish Splash’, in 1958, selling over one million copies. To him, the song was a joke – it took Darin literally minutes to write. It always bothered him that a song so silly could be so respected. Three of the greatest songs ever written were to follow: ‘Make The Knife’, ‘Dream Lover’, and ‘Beyond the Sea’. In 1962 Darin started acting in films, earning a Golden Globe award for his first role in Come September, which co-starred his first wife, actress Sandra Dee (the two would have one son together, Dodd Darin).
With the enormous amount of success in his career, Darin would be able to fulfil a dream of playing the Copacabana, where he ended up setting the all-time attendance record at the Manhattan nightclub. He was headlining in Las Vegas casinos at the time, as well.
In the 1960s, Darin opened, owned, and operated a music publishing and production company called TM Music/Trio. He was the man who signed the young Wayne Newton, even giving him the song ‘Danke Schoen’. The 1960s brought many changes to Darin’s life: he made the switch over to country music, writing and recording the lovely track ‘Things’ (which was later turned into a swing song by Dean Martin). Many more of his songs also had reasonable success.
As the 1960s continued, Darin was having a different outlook on life, and, therefore, his music styles were changing. He dove into the folk scene and had a hit with Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were a Carpenter’. He had also become active in politics, and traveled with Robert Kennedy, working on the 1968 presidential campaign. Darin was with Kennedy on June 4, 1968, for the California primary at the Ambassador Hotel, where, later that evening, Kennedy would be assassinated while walking through the kitchen of the hotel. This death, combined with learning of his true parentage, had a deep impact on Darin, and he spent the next year living in seclusion in a trailer near Big Sur in Calfironia.
Darin returned to Los Angeles in 1969 and opened Direction Records, a place for folk and protest music. Darin wrote the ballad ‘Simple Song of Freedom’, which was later recorded by Tim Hardin. By 1972, Darin was starring in his own television show on NBC, The Bobby Darin Amusement Company, which ran until his death.
Darin re-married in June 1973, and continued to make television guest appearances. Though he was still selling out nightclubs in Las Vegas, his health was beginning to fail.
On December 20, 1973, Darin died at age 37 in the recovery room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, after an operation to repair two artificial heart valves.
In 1990, Bobby Darin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame. ‘Mack The Knife’ has since been honoured with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.