Dick Clark, 1929-2012

Dick Clark, “the world’s oldest teenager” died yesterday from a heart attack. He was 82 years old.

Clark was truly legendary in the music business; American Bandstand, a show that he created and hosted, was extremely influential in exposing people to new music and helped give rise to Top 40 radio stations. A man that never seemed to age, he was able to adapt to the changing musical trends which helped make American Bandstand the longest running variety show in TV history. The show, which ran from 1957-1989, was also influential in their early decision to integrate their dance floor and feature black and white teenagers together. Clark also created and produced the American Music Awards. More recently, Clark was a household name for his annual program Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, a show with a lot of apostrophes. For many people, he is synonymous with the countdown to the ball dropping in Times Square and the welcoming of a new year.

I vaguely remember Bandstand, but it was not the dominant show that it once was. By the time I was aware of popular music MTV had been launched and was becoming the primary source for music information. I’m sure I occasionally saw Bandstand, but I have much more vivid memories of one of its competitors, Solid Gold, which was flashier. My main association with Bandstand is from clips of the show that have appeared in episodes of Behind the Music or E! True Hollywood Story to illustrate the history of the musician they are profiling. For example, I know that during her appearance on Bandstand a young Madonna announced her future plans “to rule the world” not from watching the actual episode but from the endless loops of this clip on various retrospectives of her career.

I also have an ambivalent relationship with New Year’s Eve as a holiday; if I’m not at a party or out with friends, I generally don’t care too much about it. So unlike most people, I have not spent December 31st with Dick Clark. If I happen to be home and near a television that night, I’m probably watching something other than the television countdown. I just find the whole thing pretty silly. This year was an aberration – I wasn’t feeling well so I wasn’t participating in any festivities and out of sheer boredom I flipped on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Unfortunately Clark’s appearance on the show post-stroke made me so uncomfortable and sad that I had to switch the channel. He was just a shell of the man who I remembered and I didn’t want to start 2012 depressed.

My fond memories of Dick Clark come from two of his less famous endeavors – the $25,000 Pyramid and TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes.

I love game shows and watched a lot of them growing up. But one of my favorites was always Pyramid. I liked the fact that regular people were teamed up with contestants and that you had to be creative in getting your partner to guess the answer. Sometimes all it took was one well-crafted clue for them to figure out the category. It was sometimes so maddening to be watching at home when a contestant couldn’t figure out what to say, especially if it was in the winner’s circle and there was big money to be had. The skill of the celebrity often dictated if you won the game or not; it was always a pleasure to watch a strong competitor like Betty White try and help their partner win the big money. Clark was a great host and always seemed legitimately disappointed for the contestant if they didn’t win. Unlike Alex Trebek, who comes across as smug sometimes, Clark took no joy in explaining what clues would perhaps have been more helpful. As a kid, I always thought that the celebrity should pony up some of their own cash to their partner if they were the reason that they didn’t win. What a little socialist.

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I also got a big kick out of TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes. Paired with Ed McMahon, Clark looked at bloopers from commercials, TV shows and local news as well as pulling practical jokes. Think of the show as a precursor to both Punked and America’s Funniest Home Videos. It was all pretty corny in retrospect, but I absolutely loved it at the time. I didn’t know what schadenfreude was yet, but I certainly did derive amusement from the errors and embarrassment of others. Clark and McMahon made a good team and were both very likable. Plus I thought the set with all the giant light bulb was kind of cool.

Here they are in a clip with another 80’s personality that I was fond of, Elvira. Thank goodness my pop culture palate has become a little more sophisticated as I’ve gotten older:

So while my memories of Dick Clark are not necessarily the ones that everyone else has or immediately thinks of, I share in everyone’s sadness in his passing and not just because this means we will probably be forced to deal with more Ryan Seacrest. Clark was a true entertainment legend and he will be missed.

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