published Friday, April 20th, 2012

Dick Clark, 1929-2012

Baby boomers remember Dick Clark as the host and producer of "American Bandstand," the television program that helped make rock 'n' roll a part of American culture and that made teenagers a potent social and economic force on the national scene. Subsequent generations are more likely to recall him as host of "New Year's Rockin' Eve," the annual extravaganza that was must-see TV for millions as the year turned. By the time of his death Wednesday at 82, his face and his voice likely were among the most recognized in the United States.

Clark, understandably, was best known for his long-running rock 'n' roll and New Year's shows, but he left his mark on the United States in other ways. He was a major supplier of movies, game, music, comedy and reality shows, beauty contests and other special event programming for TV. His production company was among the most prolific in the entertainment world. It made him both trendsetter and a wealthy man. His estate is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Clark, called "America's oldest teenager" for his wholesome, clean-scrubbed looks and bubbly personality, first came to national prominence in the late 1950s and "American Bandstand." Rock 'n' roll was new then and many kids, and especially their parents, were not quite sure to make of it. Clark helped them and the rest of the country learn that it was acceptable.

His show almost single-handedly turned the music into a social and entertainment phenomenon embraced by almost everyone. It featured well-dressed youngsters -- boys had to wear coats and ties -- dancing to recorded music and seemed to assure everyone that the new music was far less threatening than many thought. Not long after Clark took over the show, it became one of the nation's most popular. It remained so for decades, keeping pace with musical tastes that changed from Buddy Holly to Madonna.

"Bandstand" also helped bring social change to the nation. The program often featured black performers and was among the first to allow both blacks and whites on the set. A traveling version of the show presented in Atlanta, in fact, was one of the first in the South presented to a racially mixed audience. It went off without a hitch, despite threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

His New Year's eve program was a game-changer, too. Prior to its 1972 broadcast, most Americans celebrated the event in rather small gatherings. Clark thought he could make a profit by nationalizing the event. He was right. "Rockin' Eve" continues to attract millions and to reap profits.

Clark was likely the last of the old-fashioned entertainment impresarios whose work brought significant social and cultural change to the nation. His death at 82 from a heart attack ends a uniquely American life and career.

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