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Dick Clark dies at 82; he introduced America to rock 'n' roll

The music impresario whose 'American Bandstand' put rock music in the mainstream was also known to millions as a New Year's Eve tradition.

April 19, 2012|Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

The only stars Clark coveted for his show in those early years but could not get were the Beatles and Ricky Nelson (the latter because of television appearance limitations set down by his contract with "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet"). In 1959, the show finally got Presley but only for an interview, not a performance.

Michael Uslan, a Hollywood producer ("Constantine") and former pop-culture studies professor at Indiana University, coauthored the 1981 book "Dick Clark's The First 25 Years of Rock & Roll." In his view, the great achievement of "Bandstand" was gathering up the dances and regional sounds of the country and presenting them to teens "on a silver platter that helped turn rock 'n' roll into one national thing, as we think of today."

Uslan said Clark was well aware of the need to soften the rough edges of the music on his show.

"Dick Clark was a primary force in legitimizing rock 'n' roll," Uslan said. "He was able to use his unparalleled communication skills to present it in a way that it was palatable to parents and the establishment. Dick's philosophy was that it was like introducing someone to hot, spicy Mexican food. He would say, 'Start them out with the mild stuff first, and once they get a taste for it they'll jump in for the really hot stuff, the authentic stuff.' "

Clark would host "Bandstand" until 1989, leaving just a few months before the show's cancellation. Its impact had waned in the era of music videos and MTV, but Clark, the show's signature name, endured in his role as the unofficial emcee of American broadcasting.

In his New Year's Eve broadcasts, launched in 1972, he counted down the last moments of the year from Times Square in Manhattan. He found a surprise hit in the 1980s with "TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes," a franchise that correctly banked on the appeal of Hollywood stars flubbing their lines. His work and investments went into game shows, among them "The $25,000 Pyramid" and "Scattergories," as well as television movies such as "Murder in Texas" and "Elvis!"

One of Clark's most telling ventures was in the awards show sector.

In 1974, a dispute between ABC and the organizers of the Grammys led to an opening that Clark recognized as new turf for his music and television expertise. ABC had balked at the plan to broadcast the Grammys from Nashville, so the network and the venerable gala divorced. Clark and ABC filled the void with the American Music Awards. The AMAs, unlike the Grammys, judges its winners based on sales data and public surveys, which seemed to suit Clark's old "Bandstand" tradition of letting the kids grade the songs.

The AMAs became a template for Clark; his production company's banner flies now over the Emmy Awards, the Golden Globes, the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Family Television Awards.

Clark returned again and again to the legacy of his beloved "Bandstand" with numerous archival projects and tie-ins, including television specials, home video compilations and even a small restaurant chain that includes "American Bandstand" airport eateries in Indianapolis and Newark, N.J.

In 1981, with "Bandstand" entering its twilight, Clark told The Times that the show was No. 1 on his personal career countdown. "I feel about 'American Bandstand' the way I would about a member of my family. I'm sentimental about it. It was the beginning of everything for me."

Thirty-seven years after its founding, Dick Clark Productions Inc. was sold in 2002 for $136 million to a group of private investors. Clark stayed on as chairman and chief executive.

Clark's workload never let up until his stroke, which he suffered at his Malibu home. As much as his face and voice were instantly recognizable to television watchers, within the industry itself it was Clark's drive and demanding ways that defined his persona.

A "tyrant with a stopwatch" was the appraisal of one longtime employee who had weathered many of Clark's scoldings in the stage wings over a show portion that ran too long or too short or otherwise failed to meet his expectations.

"Can I be a mean mother? That's absolutely true," Clark told The Times in 1981. "My temper has gotten a little bit better but it's still notorious. I have no patience. If I have something on my mind, I blow up. It's my way of keeping sanity."

That temper fueled an especially public feud with C. Michael Greene, the former chief of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and the guiding hand behind the Grammys. The Grammys thundered past the American Music Awards in ratings during Greene's tenure, and one of his tactics was spreading the word that any artist who performed on the AMAs would be banned from the Grammys. Clark responded with public rage and a lawsuit. Clark dropped the suit when Greene left the academy post in 2002 after a successful but tumultuous 13-year reign.

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