LOS ANGELES – Dick Clark stood as an avatar of rock ’n’ roll virtually from its birth and, until his death Wednesday at age 82, as a cultural touchstone for boomers and their grandkids alike.
His identity as “the world’s oldest teenager” became strained in recent years, as time and infirmity caught up with his enduring boyishness. But he owned New Year’s Eve after four decades hosting his annual telecast on ABC from Times Square.
And as a producer and entertainment entrepreneur, he was a media titan: His Dick Clark Productions supplied movies, game shows, beauty contests and more to TV, and, for a time in the 1980s, he boasted programs on all three networks.
Equally comfortable chatting about music with Sam Cooke or bantering with Ed McMahon on “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes,” Clark had shows on all three networks for a time in the 1980s and was listed among the Forbes 400 of wealthiest Americans.
Clark, who died of a heart attack Wednesday at a Santa Monica hospital, also was part of radio as partner in the United Stations Radio Network, which provided programs – including Clark’s – to thousands of stations.
“There’s hardly any segment of the population that doesn’t see what I do,” Clark told The Associated Press in a 1985 interview. “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 bridged the rebellious new music scene and traditional show business. He defended pop artists and artistic freedom, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said in an online biography of the 1993 inductee. He helped give black artists their due by playing original R&B recordings instead of cover versions by white performers, and he condemned censorship.
“It still wasn’t acceptable for them to dance with white kids, so the blacks just danced with each other. We were waiting for the explosion, but it never happened,” Clark told Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine in 1998.
He joined “American Bandstand” in 1956 after Bob Horn, who’d been the host since its 1952 debut, was fired. Under Clark’s guidance, it went from a local Philadelphia show to a national phenomenon, introducing stars from Buddy Holly to Madonna.
The original “Bandstand” was one of network TV’s longest-running series as part of ABC’s daytime lineup from 1957 to 1987.
“I played records, the kids danced, and America watched,” was how Clark once described the series’ simplicity.
Clark endured accusations that he was in with the squares, with critic Lester Bangs defining Bandstand as “a leggily acceptable euphemism of the teenage experience.”
In the 1985 interview, Clark acknowledged the complaints.
“But I knew at the time that if we didn’t make the presentation to the older generation palatable, it could kill it. So along with Little Richard and Chuck Berry and the Platters and the Crows and the Jayhawks ... the boys wore coats and ties and the girls combed their hair and they all looked like sweet little kids into a high school dance,” he said.
Clark suffered a stroke in 2004 that affected his ability to speak and walk. That year he missed his annual appearance on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”
He returned the following year and, although his speech at times was difficult to understand, many praised his bravery, including other stroke victims.
“I’m just thankful I’m still able to enjoy this once-a-year treat,” he told The Associated Press by e-mail in December 2008 as another New Year’s Eve approached.
Clark’s clean-cut image survived a music industry scandal. In 1960, during a congressional investigation of “payola” or bribery in the record and radio industry, Clark was called on to testify.
He was cleared of any suspicions but was required by ABC to divest himself of record-company interests to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
The demand cost him $8 million, Clark once estimated.