TV and music pioneer Dick Clark dies at age 82
Published April 18, 2012
Dick Clark, the creator of “American Bandstand” and “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” died Wednesday morning.
He was 82.
Clark suffered a massive heart attack after entering St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica on Tuesday night for an outpatient procedure, his family said in a statement.
Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
Clark had suffered a stroke in 2004, which forced him to significantly curtail his hosting of “New Years’ Rockin’ Eve,” a show he created in 1972.
Long dubbed “the world’s oldest teenager” because of his boyish appearance, Clark bridged the rebellious new music scene and traditional show business, and was equally comfortable whether chatting about music with Sam Cooke or bantering with Ed McMahon about TV bloopers.
He thrived as the founder of Dick Clark Productions, supplying movies, game and music shows, beauty contests and more to TV. Among his credits are “The $25,000 Pyramid,” “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” and the American Music Awards.
But it was “American Bandstand” for which Clark was best known. The show was one of network TV’s longest-running series, airing as part of ABC’s daytime lineup from 1957 to 1987. Over the years, it introduced stars ranging from Buddy Holly to Michael Jackson to Madonna.
Clark joined “Bandstand” in 1956 after Bob Horn, who’d been the host since its 1952 debut, was fired. Under Clark’s guidance, it went from a local Philadelphia show to a national phenomenon.
“I played records, the kids danced, and America watched,” was how Clark once described the series’ simplicity. In his 1958 hit “Sweet Little Sixteen,” Chuck Berry sang that “they’ll be rocking on Bandstand, Philadelphia, P-A.”
“I played records, the kids danced, and America watched”
– Dick Clark on the success of ‘American Bandstand’
Clark endured accusations that he was in with the squares, with critic Lester Bangs defining Bandstand as “a leggily acceptable euphemism of the teenage experience.” In a 1985 interview, Clark acknowledged the complaints. “But I knew at the time that if we didn’t make the presentation to the older generation palatable, it could kill it.”
“So along with Little Richard and Chuck Berry and the Platters and the Crows and the Jayhawks … the boys wore coats and ties and the girls combed their hair and they all looked like sweet little kids into a high school dance,” he said.
Clark’s clean-cut image also survived a major music industry scandal. In 1960, during a congressional investigation of “payola” or bribery in the record and radio industry, Clark was called on to testify.
He was cleared of any suspicions, but was required by ABC to divest himself of record-company interests to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. The demand cost him $8 million, Clark once estimated. His holdings included partial ownership of Swan Records, which later released the first U.S. version of the Beatles’ smash “She Loves You.”
Clark was born Richard Wagstaff Clark in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in 1929. His father, Richard Augustus Clark, was a sales manager who worked in radio.
Clark idolized his athletic older brother, Bradley, who was killed in World War II. In his 1976 autobiography, “Rock, Roll & Remember,” Clark recalled how radio helped ease his loneliness and turned him into a fan of Steve Allen, Arthur Godfrey and other popular hosts.
From Godfrey, he said, he learned that “a radio announcer does not talk to `those of you out there in radio land'; a radio announcer talks to me as an individual.”
Clark began his career in the mailroom of a Utica, N.Y., radio station in 1945. By age 26, he was a broadcasting veteran, with nine years’ experience on radio and TV stations in Syracuse and Utica, N.Y., and Philadelphia. He held a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University. While in Philadelphia, Clark befriended McMahon, who later credited Clark for introducing him to his future “Tonight Show” boss, Johnny Carson.
“There’s hardly any segment of the population that doesn’t see what I do,” Clark told The Associated Press in a 1985 interview. “It can be embarrassing. People come up to me and say, `I love your show,’ and I have no idea which one they’re talking about.”
He was honored at the Emmy Awards in 2006, telling the crowd: “I have accomplished my childhood dream, to be in show business. Everybody should be so lucky to have their dreams come true. I’ve been truly blessed.”
Clark, twice divorced, had a son, Richard Augustus II, with first wife Barbara Mallery and two children, Duane and Cindy, with second wife Loretta Martin. He married Kari Wigton in 1977.