On this day in 2012, Dick Clark, the TV personality and producer best known for hosting “American Bandstand,” an influential music-and-dance show that aired nationally from 1957 to 1989 and helped bring rock `n’ roll into the mainstream in the late 1950s, dies of a heart attack at age 82 in Santa Monica, California. The clean-cut, youthful-looking Clark, dubbed “America’s Oldest Teenager,” also was the longtime host of the annual telecast “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” and headed an entertainment empire that developed game shows, awards shows, talk shows, made-for-TV movies and other programs.
Richard Wagstaff Clark was born on November 30, 1929, and raised in Mount Vernon, New York. His father was a salesman who later managed a radio station. Clark graduated from Syracuse University in 1951 and moved to Philadelphia the following year to work as a radio disc jockey. In 1956, he became the host of a local, teen-oriented TV show called “Bandstand” (launched in 1952) after the original host was fired.
In 1957, “American Bandstand,” as it was renamed, began airing nationwide. The program, which showcased ordinary teenagers dancing to records and musical acts introduced by Clark, quickly became a hit with millions of young viewers, who tuned in for the latest music, fashions and dance crazes. Clark helped end the then-standard practice of having white singers cover the songs of black artists on TV, and a number of African-American performers, including Chuck Berry and Chubby Checker, made their national TV debut on “American Bandstand.”
In 1960, amidst the show’s success, Clark was called to testify before a congressional subcommittee investigating the practice of payola, in which record companies bribed disc jockeys in order to get airplay for records. At the hearings, Clark testified to holding an ownership stake in more than 30 different record labels, distributors and manufacturers, and featuring the acts from those labels on “American Bandstand.” He denied doing anything illegal and was never charged with a crime. However, prior to the hearings, ABC, which broadcast “American Bandstand,” directed Clark to divest himself of all his music-related businesses, a move said to cost him millions of dollars.
“American Bandstand” originally aired every weekday afternoon before switching to a Saturdays-only schedule in late 1963. In 1964, the show relocated from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. In the ensuing years, as popular music styles changed, it continued to be a place for artists to launch or advance their careers. Among the multitudes of acts to appear on the program were the Beastie Boys, The Doors, Kiss, The Mamas & The Papas, Prince, Run-DMC, Michael Jackson and Madonna. Clark hosted “American Bandstand” until just months before it was cancelled in late 1989 (the show’s final installments were hosted by David Hirsch).
The music impresario furthered his place in pop culture as the host and producer of “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” a TV special that debuted in 1974 and included musical performances and live coverage of the ball drop from New York City’s Times Square. Clark helmed the telecast every year until December 31, 2004, having suffered a stroke earlier that month. Though the stroke left him speech-impaired, he returned to the countdown special the following year, with Ryan Seacrest as co-host, and continued to make annual appearances through 2011.
In addition to being an on-air personality, Clark became a media titan with his eponymous production company, formed in 1957. The company’s long list of credits range from “The $10,000 Pyramid” to “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes” to the American Music Awards and the Golden Globe Awards. Clark also remained involved in radio throughout his career, hosting several national shows and co-founding a radio network. After half a century in the entertainment business, the thrice-married Clark suffered a fatal heart attack on April 18, 2012, following a surgical procedure at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.