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Dick Clark, who helped marry the burgeoning art forms of rock ’n’ roll and television as host of American Bandstand and earned new generations of fans as the longtime host of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, has died. He was 82.
Clark died Wednesday of a heart attack at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. His family said he had entered the hospital Tuesday night for an outpatient procedure.
Appreciations and condolences immediately began pouring in for the man whose boyish looks and long association with pop music earned him the enduring tag of “America’s Oldest Teenager.” Celebrities from all mediums – ranging from Joan Rivers, Marlee Matlin and Sinbad to Danny Bonaduce, Billy Ray Cyrus and “Weird” Al Yankovic – took to Twitter with their remembrances and well wishes. Ryan Seacrest, who has stepped in as host of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve since Clark had a stroke in 2004, tweeted: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend Dick Clark. He truly has been one of the greatest influences in my life.”
Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said Wednesday: “Dick Clark was an American icon, loved and admired by generations of Americans. He made the San Fernando Valley his business home and played a vital role in our economic vibrancy. Today we have lost a legend, but Dick Clark’s legacy will forever live on.”
Clark also was a hugely successful TV producer. His Dick Clark Productions has been behind such hits as Bandstand, TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes and — under a different owner —So You Think You Can Dance, as well as trophy shows including the Golden Globes, Academy of Country Music Awards and the American Music Awards.
With his clean-cut good looks and low-key personality, Clark began hosting Bandstand in 1956 as a local show in Philadelphia. His smooth style charmed young baby boomers. Although he often didn’t identify with the music and could be an awkward interviewer, Clark withstood the test of time. He became a pop culture icon, most aptly associated with the 1950s: bobby socks, malt shops, chrome-laden cars and rock ’n’ roll.
Among his many accolades, Clark received the Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Recording Academy Trustees Award and been inducted into the Rock and Roll and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences halls of fame. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He also was a successful game show producer. Clark’s daytime Pyramid franchise won nine Emmys for best game show, second only to Jeopardy!
Clark began producing and hosting Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in 1972, eventually becoming synonymous with the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square. His stroke sidelined him for the 2004-05 edition and left him with impaired speech, but he returned the following year and had appeared in subsequent years, with Seacrest taking a more prominent role.
Clark ended most appearances with the catchphrase, “For now, Dick Clark — so long,” punctuating the line with a military salute,
Clark’s first national broadcast of American Bandstand came on Aug. 5, 1957. Then 26, he was casual and nonthreatening, and his affable style caught on.
ABC scheduled the show weekdays from 3-4:30 p.m., a perfect time to reach pubescent and teenage girls coming home from school. (Boomer boys, who certainly were not encouraged to be “sensitive,” tended to watch The Three Stooges on CBS.)
Bandstand was squeaky clean by today’s standards: The girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks or tight sweaters, and the boys had to wear coats and ties. Smoking and chewing gum were not allowed. The regular dancers — white high school students — tended to have names like Bunny.
The show became a proving ground for Philadelphia-area talent: Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Johnny Tillotson, Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell and other acts with South Street sounds. Local labels and acts thrived on the show, which showcased the latest hitmakers – always lip-syncing – and brought fad dances including the twist to the national masses.
Clark became a hugely successful businessman, first by exploiting the power Bandstand gave him over the music business and later by using his influence to create an important television production and distribution company.
His business interests date to the 1950s, when Bandstand could make or break a musical act’s career. At one point, Clark owned some or all of 33 record labels, distributors and manufacturers and was credited as writer on more than 150 popular songs.
But then came the late-’50s payola scandal, and Clark was among those facing scrutiny from a congressional committee. He admitted only to accepting a fur stole and jewelry from a record company president. The investigation ultimately determined he had done nothing illegal, but ABC gave Clark an ultimatum: Lose the ties or leave. To avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, he sold his music company interests and as a result escaped any serious penalties from the government investigations of the era.
Instead, in 1957 Clark created his own company. It became Dick Clark Productions in about 1962, when he was persuaded to name the company after himself to increase his visibility after he moved Bandstand to Los Angeles. It was an idea he got from another Hollywood legend, the late Henry Rogers – who, with the late Warren Cowan, founded the Rogers & Cowan PR company.
In 1963, Bandstand began airing once a week, on Saturdays, and a year later Clark shifted the show and his headquarters to Los Angeles. It stuck on ABC until 1987, then ran in syndication for two more years.
Among the legion of memorable Bandstand moments, one came in early 1984. Following a performance by a rising dance-pop singer named Madonna, Clark asked her, “What are your dreams?” Without missing a beat, she raised eyebrows by replying, “To rule the world.”
Clark also produced Where the Action Is for ABC, a 1965-67 Bandstand-like show hosted by Paul Revere and the Raiders, and produced and hosted a series of “bloopers” shows, the most popular with Philadelphia friend Ed McMahon.
Clark also was hugely successful on the game show front with the Pyramid franchise. He hosted The $10,000 Pyramid, which premiered in 1973 on CBS. The show ran on ABC from 1974-80 as The $20,000 Pyramid and in syndication as The $50,000 Pyramid. Clark hosted a $25,000 version as well as a $100,000 edition for syndication.
Dick Clark Productions also became a significant player in the world of awards shows. Perhaps most notably, Clark stepped in as a white knight in 1983 to produce the Golden Globes at a time when the show put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had hit hard times.
Due to a scandal involving the way Globe winners were selected, it had been dropped from network TV and was under attack on credibility issues. Clark took charge and improved the professionalism of the show, which he put on cable network TNT before making a deal with NBC, starting in 1996, which elevated the show to new heights. The telecast now attracts about 17 million viewers in the U.S. and millions more around the world.
Two years ago, long after Clark had sold the company, the HFPA tried to drop Dick Clark Productions as producer, which led to a lawsuit and trial. That litigation is still going through the courts. A decision on who controls broadcast rights to the Golden Globes is expected to come during the next few months. Although Clark no longer owned the company, he gave a video deposition in the case about the origins of the HFPA deal earlier this year.
In 2002, Clark first sold control of Dick Clark Productions, which had been a public company, to a group of private investors for $140 million. He remained an executive and played a creative role but never again was the driving force behind the business.
Dick Clark Productions was sold again in 2007, this time to Red Zone — an investment group controlled by Dan Snyder, the controversial owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and other business interests — for $175 million.
Richard Wagstaff Clark was born Nov. 30, 1929, in Mount Vernon, N.Y. He graduated from Syracuse University in 1951 and began his career at radio station WRUN-AM in nearby Utica. His first TV hosting gig was Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders, a country music show.
Clark moved to Philadelphia in 1952 to spin records at WFIL. The station had a TV affiliate that had begun broadcasting a program called Bob Horn’s Bandstand. Clark started as a substitute host, then became full time on July 9, 1956.
Clark wrote five books, including three on American Bandstand, and produced and hosted numerous rock concerts during the ’50s and ’60s. In addition to the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, he has been involved with other awards shows like the Daytime Emmys and the American Music Awards.
Among his business ventures, Clark owned live-performance theaters and a restaurant chain called the American Bandstand Restaurants and Grills.
He is survived by his wife, Kari, and his three children, RAC, Duane and Cindy.
Alex Ben Block and Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.
Watch Dick Clark‘s famous interview with Madonna here:
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