didn't invent rock ’n' roll, and often he didn't even like it. But more than any other non-performer, the clean-cut TV host and entrepreneur made this one-time rebel music welcome in America's living rooms via “American Bandstand.”
Clark didn’t invent awards shows,
or cheery TV specials, either, but he put more of them on the air than any other producer, including the
and the Family Television Awards, plus “$10,000 Pyramid” (and its various higher-sum versions), “TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes” and “Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve.”
A ubiquitous, relentlessly upbeat television personality who logged thousands of hours on-air, Clark, 82, died Wednesday of a
in Santa Monica, Calif. Clark reportedly suffered the heart attack the morning after an outpatient procedure.
Previously diagnosed with Type II
, Clark suffered
in December 2004 that caused him to miss his “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” special for the first time since he founded it in 1972. His public appearances have been limited since, though he did return to “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” the following year as a contributor.
In recent years the man known as “America's oldest teenager” may have been most famous for his regular appearances on his seemingly endless array of TV projects. But his greatest cultural impact is generally thought to be “American Bandstand.”
He didn't invent that show, either. “Bandstand,” as it was originally called, had been a local Philadelphia program launched in 1952 and hosted by two
. The concept had a studio full of teenagers dancing to the latest hit records, and the show clicked with audiences. But in 1956 when Bob Horn, then the solo host, was involved in a scandal involving drunk driving and underage girls, the producers turned to the well-scrubbed, 26-year-old Clark, who had been hosting Philadelphia's radio version of the show.
“The show was the most lucrative TV show in Philadelphia, and it was going down the tubes, so they needed a good-looking, fresh young face, and here was Dick Clark,” said John A. Jackson, author of “American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n' Roll Empire.” “He's an astute businessman, and he recognized if he took that job and made a go of it, he could further his career. He knew nothing about rock n roll.”
In a 2004 interview with
, Clark admitted that this youthful music really wasn't his thing at the time. “I grew to like it,” he said. “I came out of a jazz and rhythm-and-blues background primarily.”
Born Richard Wagstaff Clark in
, N.Y., the future self-made industry was voted “Most Likely to Sell the
” by his high school classmates, according to Jackson's biography. Clark has said he became committed to radio after seeing Gary Moore and
perform at a radio broadcast in an old New York theater. He began his career as disc jockey in Rome, N.Y.
“I got my first check in radio when I was 17, and I have been doing it ever since,” he told King.
The year after he made the jump to television and took over “Bandstand,” the show was picked up by the perennially third-place
-TV, with “American” added to the name. Soon the nation was dancing along with clean-cut white kids (at least at the beginning) to a soundtrack of underground music gone mainstream.
“People forget now that at the time, rock ‘n' roll was very scandalous,” said former Chicago rock disc jockey and former “Chicago Tonight” host Bob Sirott. “That's why Dick Clark always wore a suit and tie. He wanted mom and dad to look at the host of ‘Bandstand’ and say, ‘There's an earnest young man. He's safe.’”
The show not only had a major impact on rock ‘n' roll, it also fed the dreams and passions of young viewers discovering a new cultural world through their TV sets.
“To teenagers it was almost must-see television,” said Joe Angotti, former broadcast program chairman at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. “It was the kind of thing that everybody talked about in school the next day: `Did you see that one couple that made fools of themselves yesterday? Did you see the dance that one guy was doing?' The thought of being able to go to Philadelphia to be on `American Bandstand' was the ultimate fantasy for me and a lot of other teenagers.”
Added Angotti, who went on to become