SAN DIEGO, April 18, 2012 – Dick Clark, one of the people who shaped modern television, radio and music as we know it today, died of a heart attack in Los Angeles. He was 82 years old. According to the Associated Press, spokesman Paul Shefrin said Clark had a heart attack Wednesday morning at Saint John’s hospital in Santa Monica, a day after he was admitted for an outpatient procedure.
Ryan Seacrest, long considered the heir apparent to Clark, posted the following statement on Twitter Wednesday afternoon: “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.”
Although most people identified Clark with his longtime role as the host of the TV dance show “American Bandstand,” or with his role hosting ABC’s coverage of New Year’s Eve in Times Squares, Clark’s lasting accomplishments were behind the scenes in the entertainment industry.
Clark, born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., was involved in broadcasting from a young age. He was a college radio disc jockey and worked in the small commercial station in town while at Syracuse University. He also worked for his father, who ran the Utica, New York radio station WRUN. He worked as a television weathercaster in Utica, moved on to radio in Philadelphia in 1952, and then moved over to the station’s television side. He was so young looking that he didn’t have the gravity needed to pursue the job he really wanted as a news anchor. But the radio station liked him and gave him a weekday show called “Dick Clark’s Caravan of Music.” The title later changed to “Bandstand” to match a show already on the air on the television station.
In 1955 he got a chance to host the TV “Bandstand” when the regular host was arrested for drunk driving. Clark ended up with the job by default, and he made the show into the highest-rated TV show in Philadelphia. He featured local music acts like Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, and Frankie Avalon. The ABC television network learned about Clark’s success, and picked up the show nationally, changing the name to “American Bandstand.”
“American Bandstand” became the longest running variety show in television history, 37 years. Dozens of performers got their first exposure on “American Bandstand.” It’s hard to overestimate its influence on music and artists during its heyday.
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 and the show were so popular that ABC created other shows for him. Clark invested his income in the record industry, starting a management firm. He helped found Swan Records and had interests in other record companies. He was a millionaire by the time he was 30 years old.
Clark had a genius for spotting entertainment trends. In the 1960s he moved “American Bandstand” to Los Angeles and founded Dick Clark Productions. He capitalized on the British invasion and started more trendy shows like “Where the Action Is.” He started a side career as a game show host, hosting “The $10,000 Pyramid” for 15 years, and co-hosted “TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes,” also a ratings success. He even tried his hand at acting, the only pursuit in which Clark wasn’t wildly successful.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Clark expanded his production empire, producing other music shows for ABC and CBS, television specials and movies. As an independent producer, he had programs running around the clock in every daypart of television. According to Variety magazine, by 1985, Dick Clark Productions was churning out an average of 150-170 hours of TV programming per year. The company earned $55 million with $12 million in profits by then.
Dick Clark Productions created the American Music Awards, and began producing the Golden Globe Awards in 1983. His most recent success was launching the successful Fox dance competition series, “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Clark was also successful in his original medium, radio. “The Dick Clark National Music Survey” ran on 600 radio stations; he also hosted “Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll, and Remember.”
In the later years of his career, Clark became famous all over again for another television tradition he started in 1972. It was the first year for the “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” show from Times Square on ABC.
When Clark had a stroke in 2004, he missed hosting the show for the first time. Regin Philbin filled in. Clark returned in 2005. Although he still suffered from impaired speech and facial paralysis, the ratings skyrocketed. Returning to the show was strong motivation for Clark’s rehabilitation. He told an interviewer last year that he wasn’t happy being retired.
Ryan Seacrest joined the broadcast in 2005, while Clark has continued to make appearances. Seacrest, the heir-apparent to Clark as a multi-media performer, host, and entrepreneur, will now take over as the solo host.
Clark was nominated for numerous daytime and primetime Emmys, both as a host and a producer. He won five Emmys over the years, and was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys in 1994.
Clark was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1993.
Clark was married three times. He is survived by his third wife, Kari Wigton; two sons; and a daughter.
Variety.com and Associated Press contributed to this story.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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