Various media sources are reporting the death at age 82 of Dick Clark, the media personality and influential music host known as “America’s Oldest Teenager.”
Born just outside of New York City in November of 1929, Clark followed a fairly typical course for a small-town media figure before becoming the near-omnipresent TV and radio host who would endear himself to generations of pop music fans. His career as a small-market disc-jockey and newsreader exploded when he found himself in Philadelphia hosting a rock and pop showcase called Bandstand; starting off there in 1952 as a fill-in host, his bland good looks and buoyant personality landed him a regular gig as the long-running program’s permanent face when ABC picked it up as a nationally broadcast television series. His first interview was with a young Elvis Presley, and American Bandstand would prove to be a surprisingly reliable measure of the country’s musical zeitgeist until it ran out the string in 1989.
Clark, who was a prominent music and television producer also responsible for the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve specials and the various manifestations of the Pyramid game show, was such a fixture in the industry that it was easy to believe he would never die; indeed, for those who remember his shows from the 1970s or earlier, it’s hard to believe he was only 82. This was aided by his seemingly perpetual youth; thanks to his natty suit-and-tie wardrobe and his ability to remain looking young, he maintained the outward appearance of a smoothie in his early 30s well into his late 70s.
Clark seemed to genuinely thrive on public attention and never failed to bloom in the spotlight; he survived the payola scandal of the 1950s and innumerable cultural shifts in the music he presented to a half-dozen generations of teen pop fans and became more of a music icon than most of the legendary bands he saw come and go. Though he was slowed by diabetes and a stroke later in life, he still tried to remain in the public eye whenever he could, and displayed a fine sense of humor about his own ageless reputation by poking fun of himself on The Simpsons and elsewhere.
Dick Clark died with dozens of television and music production credits, board memberships with profitable corporations, three wives and as many kids, and a spot in half a dozen halls of fame. He never minded those who took shots at his reputation as a relic or a corny compere, but he laughed at himself all the way to the bank, and always took seriously his role as the foxy grandpa of America’s music-loving youth. — Leonard Pierce