By BRUCE WEBER
Dick Clark, the perpetually youthful-looking television host whose long-running daytime song-and-dance fest, “American Bandstand,” did as much as anyone or anything to advance the influence of teenagers and rock ’n’ roll on American culture, died on Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 82.
A spokesman, Paul Shefrin, said Mr. Clark had a heart attack at Saint John’s Health Center on Wednesday morning after entering the hospital the night before for an outpatient procedure.
Mr. Clark had a stroke in December 2004, shortly before he was to appear on the annual televised New Year’s Eve party he had produced and hosted every year since 1972. He returned a year later, and although he spoke haltingly, he continued to make brief appearances on the show, including the one this past New Year’s Eve.
With the boyish good looks of a bound-for-success junior executive and a ubiquitous on-camera presence, Mr. Clark was among the most recognizable faces in the world, even if what he was most famous for — spinning records and jabbering with teenagers — was on the insubstantial side. In addition to “American Bandstand” and “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” he hosted innumerable awards shows, comedy specials, series based on TV outtakes and the game show “$10,000 Pyramid” (which lasted long enough to see the stakes ratcheted up to $100,000). He also made guest appearances on dramatic and comedy series, usually playing himself.
But he was as much a businessman as a television personality. “I get enormous pleasure and excitement sitting in on conferences with accountants, tax experts and lawyers,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1961. He was especially deft at packaging entertainment products for television.
Starting in the 1960s, Mr. Clark built an entertainment empire on the shoulders of “Bandstand,” producing other music shows like “Where the Action Is” and “It’s Happening.” He eventually expanded into game shows, awards shows, comedy specials and series, talk shows, children’s programming, reality programming, and movies. His umbrella company, Dick Clark Productions, has produced thousands of hours of television; it also has a licensing arm and has owned or operated restaurants and theaters like the Dick Clark American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Mo.
But none of it would have been possible without “American Bandstand,” a show that earned immediate popularity, had remarkable longevity and became a cultural touchstone for the baby-boomer generation. It helped give rise to the Top 40 radio format and helped make rock ’n’ roll a palatable product for visual media — not just television but also the movies. It was influential enough that ABC broadcast a 40th-anniversary special in 1992, three years after the show went off the air, and a 50th-anniversary special 10 years later. Mr. Clark, who had long since been popularly known as “the world’s oldest teenager,” was the host of both, of course.
“American Bandstand” was broadcast nationally, originally from Philadelphia, from 1957 to 1989, and the list of well-known performers who were seen on it, many of them lip-syncing their recently recorded hits, spanned generations: from Ritchie Valens to Luther Vandross; from the Monkees to Madonna; from Little Anthony and the Imperials to Los Lobos; from Dusty Springfield to Buffalo Springfield to Rick Springfield. Mr. Clark was around for it all.
“It meant everything to do Dick’s show,” Paul Anka said in telephone interview on Wednesday. “This was a time when there was no youth culture — he created it. And the impact of the show on people was enormous. You knew that once you went down to Philadelphia to see Dick and you went on the show, your song went from nowhere to the Top 10.”
“American Bandstand’s” influence waned somewhat after it changed from a weekday to a weekly format, appearing on Saturday afternoons, in 1963 and moved its base of operations to Los Angeles the next year. And as the psychedelic era took hold in the late 1960s and rock ’n’ roll fragmented into subgenres, the show could no longer command a central role on the pop music scene.
Indeed, the show was criticized for sanitizing rock ’n’ roll, taking the edge off a sexualized and rebellious music. But it was also, in important ways, on the leading edge of the culture. Mr. Clark and his producer, Tony Mammarella, began integrating the dance floor on “American Bandstand” early on; much of the music, after all, was being made by black performers.
“I can remember, a vivid recollection, the first time ever in my life I talked to a black teenager on national television; it was in what we called the rate-a-record portion of ‘Bandstand,’ ” Mr. Clark recalled. “It was the first time in a hundred years I got sweaty palms.”
He was fearful, he said, of a backlash from Southern television affiliates, but that didn’t happen. From that day on, he said, more blacks began appearing on the show. And as time went on, the show’s willingness to bridge a racial divide that went almost entirely unacknowledged by network programming was starkly apparent, “providing American television broadcasting with the most visible ongoing image of ethnic diversity until the 1970s,” according to an essay about the program on the Web site of the Chicago-based Museum of Broadcast Communications.
“We didn’t do it because we were do-gooders, or liberals,” Mr. Clark said. “It was just a thing we thought we ought to do. It was naïve.”
The right man at the right time, Mr. Clark was a radio personality in Philadelphia in 1956 when he stepped into the role of host of what was then a local television show called “Bandstand” after the regular host was fired. By the following October, the show was being broadcast on ABC nationwide with a new name, “American Bandstand,” and for the next several years it was seen every weekday afternoon by as many as 20 million viewers, most of them not yet out of high school, eager to watch a few dozen of their peers dance chastely to the latest recordings of pop hits, showing off new steps like the twist, the pony and the Watusi, and rating the new records in brief interviews.
“It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it” became a national catchphrase.
Handsome and glib, Dick Clark was their music-savvy older brother, and from that position of authority he presided over a grass-roots revolution in American culture in the late 1950s and early ’60s. “American Bandstand” was the first show to make use of the new technology, television, to spread the gospel of rock ’n’ roll. In its early years it introduced a national audience to teen idols like Fabian and Connie Francis, first-generation rockers like Bill Haley and Jerry Lee Lewis, and singing groups like the Everly Brothers. Even more, it helped persuade broadcasters and advertisers of the power of teenagers to steer popular taste.
“At that moment in time, the world realized that kids might rule the world,” Mr. Clark said. “They had their own music, their own fashion, their own money.”
By early 1958, “American Bandstand” was so big a hit that network executives installed a new show in a concert format in its Saturday night lineup, calling it “The Dick Clark Show.” In June, ABC sent it on the road to broadcast from a number of cities. In October, when “The Dick Clark Show” originated from Atlanta, both black and white teenagers were in the audience — amounting to one of the first racially integrated rock concerts — and with National Guard troops present, it weathered threats from the Ku Klux Klan. The nighttime show lasted only until 1960.
In spite of his success, Mr. Clark, who never hid his desire for wealth, had not been getting rich as a network employee. But he had been investing, shrewdly and voluminously, in the businesses that “American Bandstand” supported — talent management, music publishing, record distribution and merchandising, among others — and his bank account ballooned.
His finances were dealt a blow, and his clean-cut image was tarnished, however, when Congress convened hearings into payola, the record company practice of bribing disc jockeys to play their records on the air. In late 1959, with the hearings pending, ABC insisted that Mr. Clark divest himself of all his record-related businesses, which he did. He was called to testify before the House Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight in April 1960, and though he denied ever taking money to play records, he acknowledged a number of actions that exposed what many in Congress considered a too-cozy relationship between the music industry and D.J.s, Mr. Clark in particular.
For an investment of $125 in one record company, for example, Mr. Clark received $31,700 in salary and stock profits over two years. He admitted that some songs and records may have been given to his publishing and distribution companies because of his affiliation with “American Bandstand.” He also acknowledged accepting a ring and a fur stole from a record manufacturer.
Mr. Clark, who was never charged with a crime, said that having to comply with the network’s divestiture request cost him millions.
“I never took any money to play records,” Mr. Clark said in his 1999 Archive of American Television interview. “I made money other ways. Horizontally, vertically, every which way you can think of, I made money from that show.”
Over half a century, Mr. Clark made millions as a producer or executive producer, shepherding projects onto the airwaves that even he acknowledged were more diverting than ennobling: awards shows like the Golden Globes, the Academy of Country Music Awards and the American Music Awards; omnibus shows like “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes,” featuring collections of clips; and television-movie biographies and dramas that targeted devotees of camp, kitsch or B-list celebrities.
He excelled in signing up top acts for his shows, and had to be especially creative on his New Year’s Eve show. Top acts often had lucrative bookings that night, so Mr. Clark worked around that by taping the dance party portion of the show at a Los Angeles studio in August.
“You would go out there and see all these people in their New Year’s Eve outfits getting a smoke outside in 100-degree heat,” said Ted Harbert, then an ABC program executive and now chairman of NBC Broadcasting. “That’s how he got the stars to turn up on a New Year’s Eve show. He taped them in August. It was genius.”
Mr. Clark wasn’t high-minded about his work. “I’ve always dealt with light, frivolous things that didn’t really count; I’m not ashamed of that,” he said during a 1999 interview for the Archive of American Television. “There’s no redeeming cultural value whatsoever to ‘Bloopers,’ but it’s been on for 20 years.” He added: “It’s a piece of fluff. I’ve been a fluffmeister for a long time.”
Richard Wagstaff Clark was born on Nov. 30, 1929, in Bronxville, N.Y., and grew up nearby in Mount Vernon, the second son of Richard A. and Julia Clark. His father was a salesman who commuted to New York City until he was hired to manage a radio station in Utica, N.Y. The older brother, Bradley, was killed in World War II, and young Dick, who had greatly admired “Brad,” a high school athlete, was devastated and depressed afterward, his father once said in an interview.
An Early Love of Radio
As a boy Dick listened often to the radio, and at 13 he went to see a live radio broadcast starring Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore. From then on, he wanted to be in broadcasting. His first job, at 17, was in the mailroom of his father’s station. He often said he learned the most important lesson of his career from listening to Arthur Godfrey.
“I emulated him,” Mr. Clark said. “I loved him, I adored him, because he had the ability to communicate to one person who was listening or watching. Most people would say, in a stentorian voice, ‘Good evening, everyone.’ Everyone? Godfrey knew there was only one person listening at a time.”
Mr. Clark studied business administration at Syracuse University, where he was a disc jockey on the student radio station. After graduating he worked briefly as an announcer for his father’s station before getting a job in television, at WKTV in Utica, as a news announcer.
In 1952 WFIL in Philadelphia gave him his own radio show, “Dick Clark’s Caravan of Music,” an easy-listening afternoon program. A few months later, the station’s television affiliate began an afternoon show called “Bandstand,” with Bob Horn and Lee Stewart. At first it showed films of musical performances for studio audiences, Mr. Clark recalled, but it evolved into a dance show when teenagers, bored with the films, started dancing to the music. As the show grew in popularity, the station changed the name of Mr. Clark’s radio show to “Bandstand” as well, even though his playlist remained uncontroversial fare for a relatively small middle-aged afternoon audience.
It was in the summer of 1956 that Mr. Horn, by then the show’s sole host, was fired and the station turned to young Dick Clark.
“I was 26 years old, looked the part, knew the music, was very comfortable on television,” Mr. Clark recalled. “ ‘They said, ‘Do you want it?’ And I said, ‘Oh, man, do I want it!’ ”
Mr. Clark’s first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Kari Wigton; three children, Richard, Duane and Cindy; and two grandchildren.
He won five Emmy Awards, including a Daytime Emmy lifetime achievement award in 1994, and in 1993 was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He owed his success, he said, to knowing the mind of the broad audience.
“My greatest asset in life,” he said, “was I never lost touch with hot dogs, hamburgers, going to the fair and hanging out at the mall.”