LOS ANGELES (AP) ― Dick Clark stood as an avatar of rock ‘n’ roll virtually from its birth and, until his death Wednesday at age 82, as a cultural touchstone for several generations of Americans.
His identity as “the world’s oldest teenager’’ became strained in recent years, as time and infirmity caught up with his enduring boyishness. But he owned New Year’s Eve after four decades hosting his annual telecast on ABC from Times Square. And as a producer and entertainment entrepreneur, he was a media titan: his Dick Clark Productions supplied movies, game shows, beauty contests and more to TV.
Dick Clark hosts a New Year’s Eve special from New York’s Times Square. (AP-Yonhap News)
Clark, who died of a heart attack Wednesday at a Santa Monica hospital, bridged the rebellious new music scene and traditional show business. He defended pop artists and artistic freedom, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said in an online biography of the 1993 inductee. He helped give black artists their due by playing original R&B recordings instead of cover versions by white performers, and he condemned censorship.
He joined the teen dance show “American 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, introducing stars from Buddy Holly to Madonna.
The original “Bandstand’’ was one of network TV’s longest-running series as part of ABC’s daytime lineup from 1957 to 1987.
As a host, Clark had the smooth delivery of a seasoned radio announcer. As a producer, he had an ear for a hit record. He also knew how to make wary adults welcome this odd new breed of music in their homes.
In the 1960s, “American Bandstand’’ moved from black-and-white to color, from weekday broadcasts to once-a-week Saturday shows and from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Although its influence started to ebb, it still featured some of the biggest stars of each decade, whether Janis Joplin, the Jackson 5, Talking Heads or Prince. But Clark never did book two of rock’s iconic groups, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Elvis Presley also never performed, although Clark managed an on-air telephone interview while Presley was in the Army.
When Michael Jackson died in June 2009, Clark recalled working with him since he was a child, adding, “of all the thousands of entertainers I have worked with, Michael was THE most outstanding. Many have tried and will try to copy him, but his talent will never be matched.’’
Equally comfortable chatting about music with Sam Cooke or bantering with Ed McMahon on “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes,’’ Clark had shows on all three U.S. networks for a time in the 1980s and was listed among the Forbes 400 of wealthiest Americans. Clark also was part of radio as partner in the United Stations Radio Network, which provided programs ― including Clark’s ― to thousands of stations.
“There’s hardly any segment of the population that doesn’t see what I do,’’ Clark told The Associated Press in a 1985 interview.