There comes a point when people become so successful in their chosen profession that they rise to the status of living legend. And then, there are those few who transcend even that, and become something even more influential, almost like a force of nature. And then, above that, stood Richard Wagstaff “Dick” Clark.
In an era of YouTube, nonstop news coverage, cable television and on-demand entertainment, it is difficult to remember a time when a single person could have as much of a transformative influence on media and popular culture as Clark did. His professional achievements are, quite literally, too long to list in this column, and even to focus on his more notable ones would take up enough space to tax the endurance of even the most dedicated reader. Put most simply, he was a legendary television and radio personality, hosting landmark shows that defined popular entertainment as much as they dominated them, ratings-wise.
Clark might best be known for his run as the host of American Bandstand, from 1956 to 1989. The show is credited with bringing rock ‘n roll into the mainstream, creating the first reality TV stars, and creating the first American youth culture. His tenure on Pyramid made that the second-most successful quiz show in American TV history, second only to Jeopardy! He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990, and was behind myriad radio programs, among the “Rock, Roll & Remember,” an oldies show which began in 1982, continues to this day and remains America’s longest-running radio show. His television appearances were legion, but none quite so impactful as his annual hosting of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, ingraining Clark himself as an integral part of the American celebration of New Year’s Eve.
For years, he was seemingly everywhere, on national television every day of the week, on radio, and producing endless television projects, wielding a skill for pitching TV projects that few could resist. He was fabulously wealthy, thanks to his 70% ownership of Dick Clark Productions, which he sold off in stages. Other successful business ventures only added to his fortune, but the prolific nature of his work seemed to indicate that his concern for money was something he left behind him years before, and by his later years, it was all about doing what he was best at, and doing what he loved.
For much of his life, Clark was renowned for his youthful appearance, earning him the nickname of “America’s Oldest Teenager.” His looks helped him win over the teen market during his early American Bandstand days, while simultaneously looking adult and respectable enough to win over skeptical adults in the audience. Clark retained his youthful vigor for decades, spurring constant jokes about his refusal to age. By the time he was in his 70s, Clark looked like he was in his 50s. That all changed in 2004, when a severe stroke seemingly turned him into an old man overnight.