1. "I'm the wolf and I wanna come in!"
Young Dick Clark was working as a DJ on a Philadelphia TV show called Bandstand when the host's 1956 DUI arrest moved Clark into the spotlight. The clean-cut, fresh-faced 26-year-old was a natural for television. Teens liked him, but his parent-friendly appearance and the renamed American Bandstand's atmosphere of good, clean fun made rock and roll seem a little less scary. Clark played records while kids danced in the studio and welcomed stars into his studio for "live" performances that were, rather obviously, lip-synched, a tradition American Bandstand would continue until ending its run in 1989. It made for a weird if strangely effective mix of elements. Clark was even able to integrate the show, letting black and white kids dance beside one another, with little fuss in 1957. In this clip, Dale Hawkins, best known for "Suzie Q," sings about huffing and puffing on a little pig, but the malt shop set pretty much cancels out any double entendres.
2. "The blemish medicine that drinks up oil"
Clark was, from the start, a shrewd businessman and a charming character. The payola scandals that brought down other DJs bounced right off him and he fit in well in a television era where, as in radio, on-air endorsements were part of the scenery. Clark could even make an unglamorous product like Clearasil seem vaguely neat.
3. "I thought it was weird."
American Bandstand's heyday as a tastemaker lasted through the early '60s. Later, Clark was slow to adapt to the changing scene and as the British Invasion, soul, and psychedelic music became the dominant forms, the show seemed a little out of step. But Bandstand would carry on for decades and remain an important promotional platform for acts. It also continued Clark's tradition of talking to actual teens and getting their opinions on the music of the day. Here the conversation moves beyond, "It has a good beat and you can dance to it," to discuss The Beatles' unsettling new mid-'60s look.
4. "Would you like the audience here or in their seats again?"
Bandstand kept going through 1989 with Clark staying on as host until 1987. His ever-youthful appearance became a running joke for everyone from late-night comics to The Far Side. But though he remained virtually unchanged, the music kept changing, sometimes in ways that Bandstand couldn't figure out. In this 1981 appearance, Public Image Limited makes a mockery of the show as John Lydon makes no attempt to lip-synch to his band's "Poptones" while trying to stir up a tiny riot by dragging the audience up on stage.
5. "Cybill Shepherd bloopers from The Long Hot Summer!"
In time, music would become just one element of Clark's career. He became less an identity than an ever-present television personality. If you didn't see him hosting the American Music Awards, created by Clark in 1973 to compete with the Grammys, you'd see him hosting The $10,000 Pyramid or one of its inflation-retitled later incarnations. Throughout much of the '80s, Clark co-hosted TV's Censored Bloopers And Practical Jokes with Ed McMahon, another veteran of Philadelphia television. If nothing else, the show is a credit to Clark's ability to turn the showbiz equivalent of wood shavings into a popular program.
6. "Not just one gold box but two!"
All the while, Clark sat atop a growing concern that included a production company and a restaurant chain. And of course, more smiling endorsements, including frequently aired spots for the Columbia Record And Tape Club.
7. "Okay, pass!"
Clark has always been proud of his business savvy, never suggesting that he was driven by a passion for music or teen culture. "As a storekeeper," he told The A.V. Club in a 2003 interview, "you've got to learn what you're going to put on the shelves. That's always been my role, even when I was in my 20s. I was a storekeeper. It didn't reflect my personal tastes or my personal preferences. You just look at the audience, listen to what they want, and put it up there and see if they come in and buy it." Still, whether introducing a collection of flubbed lines from Webster or hosting the Miss USA pageant, he remained always in the moment and a model of geniality, as in this clip in which a surprisingly slow-witted Tom Poston helps a Pyramid contestant win zero dollars.
A new tradition began in 1972 with the introduction of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, an annual New Year's celebration with musical guests. Clark counts down to the New Year in New York's Times Square between appearances by the year's au courant celebrities and musical acts. It's a simple, winning formula that doubles as a time capsule for the year it ushers out.
9. "I've been truly blessed"
The Rockin' Eve tradition has been interrupted only twice. At the turn of the millennium, ABC replaced it for one year with ABC 2000 Today, but even then Clark was there to ring in the New Year's in Times Square. In 2004, however, a stroke sidelined him. He was replaced that year by Regis Philbin but returned to co-host with Ryan Seacrest in 2005. Though visibly affected by the stroke, Clark retains the air of a lifelong television host during his now-infrequent on-air appearances. But something else has crept in. Speaking at the 2006, he put aside his trademark grin and lets audience see an emotion he's rarely displayed: Unfiltered sincerity.