“I was 26 years old, looked the part, knew the music, and was very comfortable on television,” Dick Clark once recalled of the time he was first offered hosting duties on the show that would become American Bandstand.
“They said, ‘Do you want it?’ And I said, ‘Oh, man, do I want it!’”
Dick made the most of the opportunity, going on to produce what has been estimated at more than 7,500 hours of programming spanning more than 30 series, 250 specials, and 20 television and theatrical films. An icon of the teenybopper set, his eternally youthful appearance would earn him the nickname “America’s oldest teenager.”
Born Richard Wagstaff Clark on November 30, 1929, in Bronxville, New York, Dick grew up nearby in Mount Vernon. He broke into the broadcast industry at age 17, working in the mailroom of an upstate radio station operated by his father and uncle. Before long, he was pulling on-air duty as a substitute announcer and weather reporter. He attended Syracuse University, where he worked as disc jockey for the student-run radio station. Upon graduation in 1951, Dick returned to his family’s station.
Soon, though, he found himself in Philadelphia, where Dick Clark’s Caravan of Music debuted in 1952 on radio station WFIL. In 1956, Dick took over hosting duties of Bandstand, a daily afternoon dance show on that station’s television affiliate. Within a year the show was picked up by ABC for national distribution, and by 1958 American Bandstand was pulling in a daily audience of 40 million music-hungry teens.
As the affable, clean-cut host of American Bandstand, Dick helped the nascent art form of rock ‘n’ roll reach a national audience. Artists such as Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comets, James Brown, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers all made their nationwide debuts on his show. In the process, Dick stood up against would-be censors who attempted to brand the new music as immoral, and helped to break the race barrier by playing R&B
integration of the televised Bandstand dance floor. The show continued to introduce new artists until it ended in 1989.
A savvy businessman, Dick soon expanded into game shows, awards shows, comedy specials, movies, and other popular forms of programming. He founded Dick Clark Productions in 1957, and would go on to produce everything from the Pyramid series to Bloopers & Practical Jokes. He created the American Music Awards for ABC in 1973, and would continue to produce its telecast along with other annual events such as the Golden Globes® and the Academy of Country Music Awards. Dick sold Dick Clark Productions to businessman Daniel Snyder in 2007.
For Disney, Dick starred as himself on Mickey’s 50 in 1978 and Blossom in 1991 and hosted the syndicated television series The Challengers in 1990. Dick might be best remembered, however, as the host of ABC’s annual Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve from 1973 until 2011.
All told, Dick won five Emmy® awards, including a Daytime Emmy lifetime achievement award. He is an inductee of the Television Hall of Fame, and was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame under the “Non-Performer” category in 1993.
Dick Clark passed away on April 18, 2012, in Santa Monica, California. “I got to know Dick over the past five years,” Daniel Snyder said at the time of Dick’s death, “and he was just as personable and warm in person as he was on television. Once you got to know Dick, it was obvious why he was so beloved by his many fans. He was, in every sense of the word, a giant.”
Dick always attributed his success to his ability to stay in touch with the tastes of his average viewers. “My greatest asset in life,” he once said, “was I never lost touch with hot dogs, hamburgers, going to the fair, and hanging out at the mall.”