Richard Augustus Wagstaff “Dick” Clark Jr. (November 30, 1929 – April 18, 2012) was an American radio and television personality, as well as a cultural icon who remains best known for hosting American Bandstand from 1957 to 1987.
He also hosted the game show Pyramid and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, which transmitted Times Square’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. Clark was also well known for his trademark sign-off, “For now, Dick Clark — so long!”, accompanied with a military salute.
As host of American Bandstand, Clark introduced rock & roll to many Americans. The show gave many new music artists their first exposure to national audiences, including Ike and Tina Turner, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Talking Heads and Simon & Garfunkel.
Episodes he hosted were among the first where blacks and whites performed on the same stage and among the first where the live studio audience sat without racial segregation. Singer Paul Anka claimed that Bandstand was responsible for creating a “youth culture.” Due to his perennial youthful appearance, Clark was often referred to as “America’s oldest teenager”.
In his capacity as a businessman, Clark served as Chief Executive Officer of Dick Clark Productions, part of which he sold off in his later years. He also founded the American Bandstand Diner, a restaurant chain modeled after the Hard Rock Cafe. In 1973, he created and produced the annual American Music Awards show, similar to the Grammy Awards.
Clark suffered a stroke in December 2004. With speech ability still impaired, Clark returned to his New Year’s Rockin’ Eve show a year later on December 31, 2005.
Subsequently, he appeared at the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards in 2006, and every New Year’s Rockin’ Eve show through the 2011–12 show. Clark died on April 18, 2012 of a heart attack at the age of 82 following a medical procedure.
Clark was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York, the son of Richard Augustus Clark and Julia Fuller (née Barnard) Clark. His only sibling, older brother Bradley, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
Clark attended A.B. Davis High School (later renamed A.B. Davis Middle School) in Mount Vernon, where he was an average student. At age 10, Clark decided to pursue a career in radio.
In pursuit of that goal, he attended Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, graduating in 1951 with a degree in advertising and a minor in radio. While at Syracuse, he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Phi Gamma).
In 1945, Clark began his career working in the mailroom at WRUN, an AM radio station in Rome, New York, that was owned by his uncle and managed by his father. Almost immediately, he was asked to fill in for the vacationing weatherman, and within a few months he was announcing station breaks.
While attending Syracuse, Clark worked at WOLF-AM, then a country music station. After graduation, he returned to WRUN for a short time where he went by the name Dick Clay. After that, Clark got a job at the television station WKTV in Utica, New York.
His first television-hosting job was on Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders, a country-music program. He would later replace Robert Earle (who would later host the GE College Bowl) as a newscaster.
Clark was principal in pro broadcasters operator of 1440 KPRO in Riverside, California, from 1962 to 1982. In the 1960s, he was owner of KGUD AM/FM (later KTYD AM/FM) in Santa Barbara, California.
Clark was married three times. His first marriage was to Barbara Mallery in 1952; the couple had one son, Richard Augustus Clark III (“R.A.”, or “Rac”), and divorced in 1961. He married Loretta Martin in 1962; the couple had two children, Duane and Cindy, and divorced in 1971. His third marriage, to Kari Wigton, whom he married on July 7, 1977, lasted until his death.
During an interview on Larry King Live in April 2004, Clark revealed that he had type 2 diabetes.
On December 8, 2004, the then 75-year-old was hospitalized in Los Angeles after suffering what was initially termed a minor stroke. Although he was expected to be fine, it was later announced that Clark would be unable to host his annual New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast.
Clark returned to the series the following year, but the dysarthria that resulted from the stroke rendered him unable to speak clearly for the remainder of his life. He also suffered from Coronary artery disease in his last years.
On April 18, 2012, Clark died of a heart attack following a transurethral resection of the prostate, at Saint John’s Health Center and the Pacific Urology Institute in Santa Monica, California. Clark’s family did not immediately decide on whether there would be a public memorial service, but stated “there will be no funeral”. Clark was cremated on April 20, and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.
Following his death, U.S. President Barack Obama praised Clark’s career: “With American Bandstand, he introduced decades’ worth of viewers to the music of our times. He reshaped the television landscape forever as a creative and innovative producer. And, of course, for 40 years, we welcomed him into our homes to ring in the New Year.”
Motown founder Berry Gordy and singer Diana Ross spoke of Clark’s impact on the recording industry: “Dick was always there for me and Motown, even before there was a Motown. He was an entrepreneur, a visionary and a major force in changing pop culture and ultimately influencing integration,” Gordy said. “He presented Motown and the Supremes on tour with the “Caravan of Stars” and on American Bandstand, where I got my start.” Ross said.
Ryan Seacrest, who began hosting New Year’s Rockin’ Eve after Clark suffered a stroke, paid tribute to Clark on American Idol, which, along with Game Show Network, broadcast tributes to Clark during the week of April 22–28, 2012.
The organizers of New Year’s Eve festivities at Times Square (as featured on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve) also paid tribute to Clark through the incorporation of a Waterford Crystal panel inscribed with his name on the 2013 Times Square Ball.