Dick Clark, the television impresario and host of the American Bandstand rock 'n' roll dance show whose permanently boyish looks earned him the nickname "the oldest living teenager," died Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 82. Clark had entered St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., Tuesday night for an outpatient procedure, according to a statement released by his agent, Paul Shefrin.
In 2004, he had suffered a stroke that impaired his speech and movement.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, American Bandstand had an impact on popular culture on par with today's American Idol. Local Philadelphia-area teens who danced on the program became national celebrities; songs they said had "a good beat" during the "Rate-a-Record" segment shot up the pop charts.
"He pretty much invented teenagers as a social unit, and when he plugged a song on Bandstand, the record was more than likely to go gold," People magazine wrote in 1989.
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Clark's clean-cut appearance and strict dress code for Bandstand — jackets and ties for boys, skirts and no tight tops for girls — helped make rock 'n' roll music acceptable to middle America. He was also daring: His insistence on allowing black couples to dance alongside whites gave U.S. viewers one of the first mainstream images of ethnic diversity.
During the show's 30-year run on ABC, Clark interviewed more than 10,000 guests and showcased artists from Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chubby Checker to the Doors, Madonna and Prince. He almost single-handedly made stars of Bobby Darin, Connie Francis and Neil Sedaka.
The show's status as an American cultural institution was solidified when Clark donated Bandstand's original podium and backdrop to the Smithsonian.
Behind the scenes, Clark was one of the savviest entrepreneurs in television history. Founded in 1957, Dick Clark Productions created The Golden Globes, The American Music Awards, The Academy of Country Music Awards, Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, the Bloopers franchise and The $10,000 Pyramid game show and its many spinoffs.
At one point in the 1980s, Clark was hosting shows on all three major networks and in syndication.
"There's hardly any segment of the population that doesn't see what I do," Clark told The Associated Press in a 1985 interview. "It can be embarrassing. People come up to me and say, 'I love your show,' and I have no idea which one they're talking about."
He bristled when critics attacked the low-brow appeal of his 1980s specials such as Hollywood's Private Home Movies and Superstars and Their Moms. He always maintained that his job was to give viewers what they want.
After watching Clark ring in the New Year for more than 30 years, viewers were stunned in December 2004 when a stroke forced him to miss the annual telecast. A year later, Clark was back on the air, counting down to 2006 as the ball dropped in Times Square.
Clark continued co-hosting New Year's telecasts along with Ryan Seacrest, who did most of the talking.
Via e-mail, he told the New York Times before what would be his final celebration at the dawn of 2012 that for many viewers, it's "comforting to see a familiar face who has been there for the past 40 years."
Richard Wagstaff Clark was born on Nov. 30, 1929, the second son of Richard Augustus and Julia Barnard Clark, in Bronxville, outside New York City. His father was a sales manager for a New York-based cosmetics firm.
Clark's older brother, Brad, a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, was shot down and killed during the Battle of the Bulge.
Clark attended Syracuse University, where he worked as a disc jockey and newscaster at the campus radio station.
With help from his father, Clark landed a job at radio station WFIL in Philadelphia, where he hosted Dick Clark's Caravan of Music. WFIL's sister television station carried an afternoon teen dance show called Bandstand that was hosted by Bob Horn. After Horn was arrested for drunken driving in 1956, Clark replaced him.
"Clark's clean-cut boy-next-door image seemed to offset any unsavory fallout from Horn's arrest, because the show increased in popularity," according to a history of the show provided by the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.
Clark persuaded ABC network executives to include the show in its national lineup. The newly renamed American Bandstand debuted on Aug. 5, 1957. Within months, the show, which led into ABC's Mickey Mouse Club, was the nation's top-rated daytime program.
"It was the original reality show," Clark told CNN's Larry King in 2004.