RIP: Dick Clark

Posted April 19, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in News

Media pioneer, ‘Bandstand’ host and beloved music veejay passes away at the age of 82

Dick Clark, longtime music host of ‘American Bandstand’ and the face of ‘Rockin’ Eve’ and a host of television shows, died at the age of 82 today at a Los Angeles hospital.

According to his agent, Paul Shefrin, the music icon died this morning following a “massive heart attack.”

Clark, born Richard Wagstaff Clark on November 30, 1929, entered the music business before exiting high school. After working as a mailroom intern at WRUN, a radio station in upstate New York, he suddenly made his way on-air, filling in for the weatherman and radio show announcers.

After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in business, Clark made his way back to radio and began his trek to bigger stations and even bigger audiences, eventually landing him on WFIL in Philadelphia.

It was in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, tthat Clark found himself hosting ‘Bandstand’, a local afternoon dance show aimed at attracting teenagers. Within five years, Bandstand became an American treasure with ABC picking up the show in 1957, helping to introduce hit records to millions of music lovers and also utilizing a clever “Rate-a-Record” poll segment. Breakout performances from early rock ‘n roll legends like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry highlighted the show’s grandeur in the glowing years, while also opening into newer musical forms including rock, disco, funk, hip-hop and country. In latter years, Blondie, Madonna, Wham!, Cyndi Lauper and all made their way to the Bandstand stage. The show also broke ground for integrating its program, allowing black performances and r&b records to make its way into pop audiences which elevated the profiles of stars like the Supremes, Percy Sledge, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Sylvers, Run D.M.C., Prince, Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson.

Its greatest milestone, a major moment in rock ‘n roll and pop history, is how Clark was turned on by a Tampa-based popular dance that made its way up north nicknamed “The Twist.” Clark immediately wanted a new artist to cash in on the dance craze by re-recording the Hank Ballard classic recorded in 1958. After Chubby Checker recorded his take of the song, thanks to Clark’s suggestion, the song made its debut on the Billboard 200 at number 49. His performance of the song on American Bandstand pushed the novelty hit to number one on September 19, 1960. A second re-issue of the single pushed the single back to number one on November 13 and again at the beginning of the following year. According to a Billboard magazine poll in 2008, “The Twist” was marked the number one popular song in their entire history of the Billboard Hot 100.

Bandstand moved to California in 1963 and continued its run, with the steam from Clark’s production studio Dick Clark Productions, until its final show in 1989. But it didn’t stop Clark’s run of basic TV programming that he was totally responsible for: The $10,000 Pyramid made its television debut in 1973, which was followed by the Eighties’ favorite TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes – a moving precursor to America’s Funniest Videos and the annual American Music Awards, started in 1973 as a “fan favorite” alternative to the Grammys. Clark also had his hand in orchestrating the logistics behind the highly-televised philanthropic LiveAid event and its grassroots cousin, FarmAid.

Another annual occurrence that Clark spearheaded was “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” which became a Dec. 31 tradition since 1972 and features the year’s finest pop hits and musical acts while also celebrating the classic ball drop in Times Square. After the drop, the glitzy live parties rally onward as the different time zones celebrate their own unique countdowns.

In 2004, Clark suffered a stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed and struggling with his speech. Regis Philbin filled in for Clark’s role that year, but Clark bounced back the year following and vowed to make a comeback in his health. “I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again,” he told his audience. “It’s been a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I’m getting there.”

With American Idol host Ryan Seacrest by his side since 2006, Clark championed the Rockin’ Eve telecasts year after year, even appearing healthier and stronger on January 1, 2012. Seacrest tweeted about the loss of his “idol” this afternoon: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend Dick Clark,” he stated. In an official statement released later, Seacrest added, “I learned a great deal from him, and I’ll always be indebted to him for his faith and support of me….We will all miss him.”

In my final thesis on Dick Clark’s legacy, I posted on my Facebook wall these words:
“…One of the last great chapters in his story that I believe will probably get the least amount of attention was that when he suffered his first stroke, that was life telling him to slow down. But Clark, being the young teenager he forever was, fought back with a fearless ball of courage, bouncing back to his post at ‘Rock’n’ New Years’ and continued to show the world that he absolutely was not going to become some forgotten retired recluse. With a father’s love, Dick Clark gave off a warm smile and displayed good vibrations while ushering the first minutes of 2012 on-air. It gave me courage that the new year had to be better than the last. That drive and passion defined his last years of life…and it is that determination that speaks to the fortitude he had for life (and music) itself. Even in his passing, the music world and those who care for its continuity should take a note from Clark’s walk of life.”

Forever known as America’s Oldest Teenager, Dick Clark is celebrated by the throngs of followers who come from every aisle of race, culture and musical genre. They remember his passion for the music industry while also understanding the formula of great music. They remember his love for life and for his marvelous body of work – which encompasses 7,500 hours of TV time, multiple Emmys and Grammys, a 1993 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – that transcends the test of time.

He is survived by his three children and his third wife, Keri Wigton, married to him since 1977.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine

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