Dick Clark, the music industry maverick, longtime TV host and powerhouse producer who changed the way we listened to pop music with American Bandstand, and whose trademark Rockin’ Eve became a fixture of New Year’s celebrations, died today at the age of 82.
Clark’s agent Paul Shefrin said in statement that the veteran host died this morning following a “massive heart attack.” He is survived by his wife Kari and his three children, RAC, Duane, and Cindy.
Born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on Nov. 30, 1929, Richard Wagstaff Clark began his lifelong career in show business began before he was even out of high school. He started working in the mailroom of WRUN, a radio station in upstate New York run by his father and uncle. It wasn’t long before the teenager was on the air, filling in for the weatherman and the announcer.
Clark pursued his passion at Syracuse University, working as a disc jockey at the student-run radio station while studying for his degree in business. After graduating in 1951, Clark went back to his family’s radio station, but within a year, a bigger city and bigger shows were calling.
Within five years, the whole country was watching. ABC took the show national, and American Bandstand was born.
Blazing a New Trail in Pop Music
American Bandstand’s formula was simple. Clean-cut boys and girls danced to the hottest hits and the newest singles. In between, Clark chatted with the teens, who helped “rate-a-record,” turning songs into sensations. Everyone showed up on American Bandstand: from Elvis Presley to Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry to Chubby Checker.
When Dick Clark moved to Hollywood in 1963, American Bandstand moved with him. He started Dick Clark Productions, and began cranking out one hit show after another; his name became synonymous with everything from the $25,000 Pyramid to TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes to the American Music Awards. In 1972, Dick Clark became synonymous with one of the biggest nights of the year.
New Year’s Rockin’ Eve
Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on ABC became a Dec. 31 tradition, with Clark hosting the festivities for more than three decades, introducing the entertainment acts and, of course, counting down to midnight as the ball dropped in New York’s Times Square.
But the traditional celebration saw a temporary stop in 2004, when Clark suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and struggling to speak. Regis Philbin stepped in. But by the next New Year’s Eve, Dick Clark was back, his speech still impaired. In halting words, he told the audience, “I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again. It’s been a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I’m getting there.”
But that didn’t stop him: he returned each year, and recently he was joined by Ryan Seacrest.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications has done the math, and figures that Dick Clark Productions has turned out more than 7,500 hours of television programming, including more than 30 series and 250 specials, as well as more than 20 movies for theatre and TV.
All this earned Clark a long list of awards and accolades: Emmys, Grammys, induction in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It also made him one of the richest men in Hollywood; he also had stakes in a wide range of businesses, including restaurants, theatres and real estate.
“America’s Oldest Teenager”
Clark, whose eternally youthful look earned him the nickname “America’s Oldest Teenager”, is survived by his three children and his third wife, Keri Wigton, married to him since 1977. He credited his appearance to good genes, once saying “if you want to stay young looking, pick your parents very carefully.”
Now, America’s Oldest Teenager is gone, leaving his indelible mark on generations of fans, and helping change rock ‘n’ roll and TV forever. His signature sign-off was always “For now, Dick Clark … so long,” said with a salute. Today, generations of Americans are saluting back.
By JULIA KATHAN