Dick Clark dead at 82
America has lost one of its greatest cultural touchstones. Dick Clark has died at the age of 82.
The iconic "American Bandstand" host and television producer, credited by many pop historians for spearheading the introduction of rock 'n' roll to generation of teenagers coming of age in the '50s, was stricken this morning (4/18) by a "massive heart attack" in Santa Monica, CA, and died shortly thereafter, according to a statement from his agent, Paul Shifrin.
Clark, frequently dubbed "America's Oldest Teenager" over the years by fans and observers surprised and impressed by his seemingly ageless appearance, had been engaged in a slow, public recovery from a 2004 stroke that left him partially paralyzed and robbed him of much of his speaking voice.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Clark had entered St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica Tuesday night (4/17) for an outpatient procedure before suffering the heart attack that killed him.
Born in Mount Vernon, NY, in 1929, Clark angled for a career in show business before even finishing high school, getting his initial start in the mailroom of WRUN, an upstate New York radio station run by his father and uncle. He progressed quickly to on-air talent status, filling in as a weatherman and announced when the need arose.
After a stint as a college radio disc jockey at Syracuse University, where he was studying for degree in business, Clark set out on a radio career in earnest, moving from the family station to Philadelphia's WFIL, where he started a show called "Dick Clark's Caravan of Music" in 1952.
It was there "American Bandstand" began as a local, afternoon dance show for teenagers. By 1957 the show had gone national, and soon became a legitimate sensation for ABC, spawning its own lingo ("It's got a beat and you can dance to it") and stable of semi-regular performers (singer Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon made 110 appearances alone, for instance). The program -- which moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 1964 -- ran until 1989, with Clark hosting until the end. But Clark thought outside the limited format a show like "Bandstand" could provide; he started his Dick Clark Productions company the same year as "Bandstand" went nationwide; in 2007 he sold the business for $175 million. Besides "Bandstand," Clark went on to produce a myriad of other popular shows, including the long-running "TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes" and a wide variety of specials, including "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve
The New Year's Eve special was perhaps the program most identified with Clark after "Bandstand." Before the special debuted in 1974, New Year's programming tended to be on the sedate side, featuring Guy Lombardo, black-tie orchestras, and industrial-strength bubble-making machines. "Rockin' New Year's Eve" changed the game, ushering in a new American tradition: counting along with Dick Clark the seconds until the big ball dropped in New York's Times Square.
Despite Clark's 2004 stroke, he only missed one ball drop during his recovery, with Regis Philbin filling in that first year. A noticeably aged and debilitated Clark returned the following year, with "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest now serving as the show's primary host; Clark's role diminished as the years went by, but he continued to perform the countdown himself.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend Dick Clark, Seacrest tweeted Wednesday. "He has truly been one of the greatest influences in my life. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Clark, who was married three times, is survived by his third wife, Kari Wigton, who he married in 1977, and three children from previous marriages: Richard, Duane and Cindy.