Entertainment

Dick Clark dies from massive heart attack

Thursday, April 19, 2012
Dick Clark

Dick Clark, longtime TV host and powerhouse producer who changed the way we listened to pop music with American Bandstand, and whose trademark Rockin' Eve became a fixture of New Year's celebrations, has died at the age of 82.

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Clark's agent Paul Shefrin said in statement that the veteran host died this morning following a "massive heart attack." He is survived by his wife Kari and his three children, RAC, Duane, and Cindy.

Clark was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on Nov. 30, 1929. He began his lifelong career in show business began before he was even out of high school. He started working in the mailroom of WRUN, a radio station in upstate New York run by his father and uncle. It wasn't long before the teenager was on the air, filling in for the weatherman and the announcer.

Clark pursued his passion at Syracuse University, working as a disc jockey at the student-run radio station while studying for his degree in business. After graduating in 1951, Clark went back to his family's radio station, but within a year, a bigger city and bigger shows were calling.

Clark landed a gig as a DJ at WFIL in Philadelphia in 1952, spinning records for a show he called Dick Clark's Caravan of Music. There he broke into the big time, hosting Bandstand, an afternoon dance show for teenagers.

Within five years, the whole country was watching. ABC took the show national, and American Bandstand was born. "American Bandstand" was one of network TV's longest-running series as part of ABC's daytime lineup from 1957 to 1987. Over the years, it introduced stars ranging from Buddy Holly to Madonna. The show's status as an American cultural institution was solidified when Clark donated Bandstand's original podium and backdrop to the Smithsonian Institution.

"I played records, the kids danced, and America watched," was how Clark once described the series' simplicity. In his 1958 hit "Sweet Little Sixteen," Chuck Berry sang that "they'll be rocking on Bandstand, Philadelphia, P-A."

As a host, he 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.

Clark endured accusations that he was in with the squares, with critic Lester Bangs defining Bandstand as "a leggily acceptable euphemism of the teenage experience." In a 1985 interview, Clark acknowledged the complaints. "But I knew at the time that if we didn't make the presentation to the older generation palatable, it could kill it."

"So along with Little Richard and Chuck Berry and the Platters and the Crows and the Jayhawks ... the boys wore coats and ties and the girls combed their hair and they all looked like sweet little kids into a high school dance," he said.

But Clark 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.

Long dubbed "the world's oldest teenager" because of his boyish appearance, Clark bridged the rebellious new music scene and traditional show business, and equally comfortable whether chatting about music with Sam Cooke or bantering with Ed McMahon about TV bloopers. He thrived as the founder of Dick Clark Productions, supplying movies, game and music shows, beauty contests and more to TV. Among his credits: "The $25,000 Pyramid," ''TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes" and the American Music Awards.

For a time in the 1980s, he had shows on all three networks 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.

His stroke in December 2004 forced him to miss his annual appearance on "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve." He returned the following year and, although his speech at times was difficult to understand, many praised his bravery, including other stroke victims.

Still speaking with difficulty, he continued taking part in his New Year's shows, though in a diminished role. Ryan Seacrest became the main host.

Seacrest issued a statement on his Facebook page after learning that Clark had died. "I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend Dick Clark. He has truly been one of the greatest influences in my life. My thoughts and prayers are with his family," he wrote.

Clark was honored at the Emmy Awards in 2006, telling the crowd: "I have accomplished my childhood dream, to be in show business. Everybody should be so lucky to have their dreams come true. I've been truly blessed."

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."

Clark kept more than records spinning with his Dick Clark Productions. Its credits included the Academy of Country Music and Golden Globe awards; TV movies including the Emmy-winning "The Woman Who Willed a Miracle" (1984), the "$25,000 Pyramid" game show and the 1985 film "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins." Clark himself made a cameo on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and a dramatic appearance as a witness on the original "Perry Mason." He was an involuntary part of Michael Moore's Academy Award-winning "Bowling for Columbine," in which Clark is seen brushing off Moore as the filmmaker confronts him about working conditions at a restaurant owned by Clark.

In 1974, at ABC's request, Clark created the American Music Awards after the network lost the broadcast rights to the Grammy Awards.

He was also an author, with "Dick Clark's American Bandstand" and such self-help books as "Dick Clark's Program for Success in Your Business and Personal Life" and "Looking Great, Staying Young." His unchanging looks inspired a joke in "Peggy Sue Gets Married," the 1986 comedy starring Kathleen Turner as an unhappy wife and mother transported back to 1960. Watching Clark on a black and white TV set, she shakes her head in amazement, "Look at that man, he never ages."

Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company released a statement saying, "For more than half a century, Dick Clark brought the best of American music to audiences across the country, creating careers and countless fans for artists on his iconic shows, 'American Bandstand' and 'New Year's Rockin' Eve.' We're proud that ABC was home to those programs and will always be part of his legacy. On behalf of everyone at Disney and ABC, we send our sincere condolences to Dick's family, as well as the three generations of fans who will miss him as much as we do."

Clark's clean-cut image survived a music industry scandal. In 1960, during a congressional investigation of "payola" or bribery in the record and radio industry, Clark was called on to testify.

He was cleared of any suspicions but was required by ABC to divest himself of record-company interests to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. The demand cost him $8 million, Clark once estimated. His holdings included partial ownership of Swan Records, which later released the first U.S. version of the Beatles' smash "She Loves You."

In 2004, Clark announced plans for a revamped version of "American Bandstand." The show, produced with "American Idol" creator Simon Fuller, was to feature a host other than Clark.

He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1994 and served as spokesman for the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Clark, twice divorced, had a son, Richard Augustus II, with first wife Barbara Mallery and two children, Duane and Cindy, with second wife Loretta Martin. He married Kari Wigton in 1977.

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Information from ABC News and The Associated Press.

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