Dick Clark dies: Entertainment icon became hero to stroke victims

Dick Clark might have been one of Hollywood’s shrewdest businessmen, but for many Americans, his lesser-known role as a stroke survivor determined to live a normal life likely will be a more lasting legacy.

Clark died Wednesday at age 82, suffering a massive heart attack after a medical procedure. He had had a debilitating stroke in 2004 and had to learn to walk and talk again -- often with difficulty.

But Clark didn’t give in to the symptoms of that stroke, which included slurred, slowed speech and partial paralysis. It was assumed that Clark would have to step down from his iconic “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” duties, and indeed he missed that year’s countdown. But he was back in 2005, alongside his appointed heir apparent, Ryan Seacrest. Most recently, he helped the nation usher in 2012, as seen above.


PHOTOS: Dick Clark | 1929-2012

“Some people felt that it was bad taste on the network’s part to have him return in that condition. The network got a lot of criticism for that,” said Robert J. Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “People said, ‘This is supposed to be a celebration for the new year, I don’t want to see someone in that condition.’

“But I was really glad to see him do it,” Thompson said of Clark, who had attended Syracuse and was a frequent guest speaker there. “Dick Clark announced to the world that people can have strokes and still continue to function.”

In doing so, Clark became a symbol of hope to the millions of Americans currently struggling in the aftermath of what’s known as cerebrovascular incident. Many of those stroke victims grapple with depression and become withdrawn because they feel self-conscious about the lingering side effects, experts said.

“We lost a champion and a voice for stroke,” said Jim Baranski, chief executive of the National Stroke Assn., said Wednesday.

All too often, stroke victims -- particularly celebrities -- shrink back from life and become isolated. They fear that people will think their mental capacities have been diminished along with their ability to speak normally, or that others will become impatient and annoyed with them.

“They are reluctant to be surrounded by that stigma attached to stroke,” Baranski told The Times. “But he told the world, ‘It’s OK. You can go on from this.’”

Dr. Larry Goldstein, professor of medicine and director of the stroke center at Duke University and spokesman for the American Stroke Assn., said Clark was often used as a teaching tool for stroke patients.

“I watched him year by year on the countdown show, and I could see small but steady improvement year after year,” Goldstein told The Times. “That’s important to patients who wonder if they are going to recover, or wonder whether all the therapy and hard work is worth it. Recovery comes in degrees, and he showed that.”

He added: “Here’s a guy who refused to quit, he said, ‘I’m going back out there.’ He was such an inspiration to so many people.”


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