Dick Clark, America's Oldest Teenager, Dies At 82

American Bandstand host Dick Clark died in Santa Monica, Calif., Wednesday, at the age of 82. He had been in fragile health since suffering a major stroke several years ago. Besides Bandstand and New Years Rockin' Eve, Clark also produced several successful games shows and award shows.

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Dick Clark, most famous for hosting the "American Bandstand" and many New Year's Eve celebrations, died yesterday in Santa Monica, California. He was 82 and had been in fragile health since suffering a major stroke in 2004. Clark's career spanned half a century and several entertainment genres, as NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN BANDSTAND THEME")

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: If you were a teenager in the 1950s, you rushed home from school, threw your books on the kitchen table, and ran to turn on the television so you could watch "American Bandstand."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN BANDSTAND")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And now, here he is, the star of our show - Dick Clark!

BATES: Clark didn't look much older than his teenage studio audience. His fresh face and affable persona reassured kids' parents that rock 'n' roll was safe for mainstream America. Bill Werde, editorial director of Billboard magazine, says in the early days, "Bandstand" was critical to marketing records.

BILL WERDE: This wasn't today, where there's a thousand different channels of distribution and promotion. To have a national TV show that was sort of hitting, especially teen girls, at the exact moment that they were coming home from school, it was an incredibly powerful device.

BATES: Artists who were considered rock and pop royalty performed on "Bandstand," but so did newcomers. Roger McGuinn, then a guitarist and singer for a now-legendary folk-rock band, remembers his first appearance in the 1960s.

ROGER MCGUINN: I was a big fan of "American Bandstand." I remember watching it as a teenager. And then I was honored to be on it in my early 20s, when we were in The Byrds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EIGHT MILES HIGH")

THE BYRDS: (Singing) Eight miles high, and when you touch down, you'll find that it's stranger than known...

BATES: Clark showcased black artists, too, like Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke and the Supremes. He understood that white kids listened to black music. In 1998, Clark told radio show "Rock and Roll America" that when "Bandstand" started in Philadelphia, the audience was segregated. He knew, though, that things had to change when the show moved to Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DICK CLARK: We said, you know, the world is becoming a little more integrated; we better start getting some Negroes in the program.

BATES: Scripps College professor Matt Delmont has just published "The Nicest Kids In Town," a history of how "Bandstand" resisted integration for years. When it finally happened, Delmont said, the big motivator was a successful competitor.

MATT DELMONT: Clark definitely saw "Soul Train" and Don Cornelius as a threat, to the extent that he started his own rival television show; what he called a black version of "Bandstand," called "Soul Unlimited," that was hosted by a black radio DJ from Los Angeles.

BATES: That show quickly and quietly went away, but Clark eventually went on to build a huge television empire. He produced several successful game shows, the Emmys, Golden Globes and the American Music Awards. And for three decades, he became a beloved constant in American living rooms as he counted down to the New Year for millions from Times Square.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CLARK: Here we go - the leap second will be accounted for in five, four, three, two, one. Happy New Year!

BATES: New Year's Eve won't ever be the same. Dick Clark died yesterday. He suffered a heart attack after undergoing a routine medical procedure.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AULD LANG SYNE")

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