He put Aretha Franklin and Chuck Berry in our living rooms, Madonna and Michael Jackson too, and for that we dubbed him "America's Oldest Teenager," a youthful-looking square who saw value in the everyday kid. The show was American Bandstand: fun, clean, groundbreaking.
But Dick Clark, who died of a massive heart attack Wednesday at age 82, will also be missed in less obvious ways, too. After all, for the past 40 years, we commenced and concluded each and every year with him, bookending our messy lives with a big swig of champagne and the most stable man we felt we knew.
On Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, Clark told us when to cheer, to sing, to kiss. The Times Square ball dropped when Dick Clark was good and ready.
The Mount Vernon, N.Y., native, who died in Santa Monica, Calif., was a shrewd businessman with a tremendous work ethic; even complications from a stroke in 2004 couldn't keep him from showing up to work on Dec. 31 the following year.
Some of us will still be waiting to see him this year, too.
"I idolized him from the start," said Ryan Seacrest in a statement. The host of American Idol — and a man whose workload and drive is often compared to Clark's — Seacrest joined Clark's New Year's Eve show in 2006. "He was smart, charming, funny and always a true gentleman. He was a remarkable host and businessman and left a rich legacy."
Clark was the ultimate in reliability, durability. A lot of what he did lasted. The American Music Awards. His 22-year radio show Rock, Roll & Remember. He knew the inner-workings of a dollar bill, his Dick Clark Productions making him extremely wealthy. And yet Clark's success both on camera and behind it relied on an easy likability that didn't hinge on humor or sex appeal or gloating, but instead a smiling, gentle normalcy. Spare the drama, there's work to do.
Even his sign-off was rather pedestrian: "For now, Dick Clark . . . so long" followed by a smile and a crisp, militaristic salute.
"There's hardly any segment of the population that doesn't see what I do," Clark told the Associated Press in 1985. "It can be embarrassing. People come up to me and say, 'I love your show,' and I have no idea which one they're talking about."
Clark knew our guilty pleasures, his production company churning out the umpteen-thousand-dollar Pyramid game shows and TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes. "I've always dealt with light, frivolous things that didn't really count; I'm not ashamed of that," Clark said during a 1999 interview for the Archive of American Television. "There's no redeeming cultural value whatsoever to Bloopers. . . . It's a piece of fluff. I've been a fluffmeister for a long time."
A graduate of Syracuse University, Clark developed his dueling loves for music, broadcasting and crowd control while in college, working at a country music radio station. He eventually journeyed to Philadelphia, where, in 1956, he took over a music TV show called Bob Horn's Bandstand. On Aug. 5, 1957, it was renamed American Bandstand — and it changed everything.
White artists, black artists, rap, rock, R&B: Clark welcomed everyone onto the show, including teenagers of all colors to dance and cut loose. He saw value not just in adolescents but in their music, too. Whether he was interviewing Sam Cooke or "Weird Al" Yankovic, he treated each guest with respect and a chuckling curiosity.
Bandstand, for so long a staple of ABC's weekly lineup, finally ended in 1989. Clark would later donate Bandstand's original podium and backdrop to the Smithsonian Institution.
While he was riding the high of Bandstand, Clark produced and hosted the first Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve in 1972, a gaudy melange of music, comedy and confetti leading up to the strike of 12. There he sat, with the swarms of Times Square in New York City shivering en masse behind him.
He smiled and laughed and eventually counted down. And before we had a chance to smooch a loved one, before we woke the kids just for a happy second, it was just you and Dick Clark and a fresh start.
And he smiled, the first to tell you, "Happy New Year."
And he meant it.
Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report. Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected]