Dick Clark, Entertainment Icon Nicknamed 'America's Oldest Teenager,' Dies at 82

PHOTO: Dick Clark
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Dick Clark, the music industry maverick, longtime TV host and powerhouse producer who changed the way we listened to pop music with "American Bandstand," and whose trademark "Rockin' Eve" became a fixture of New Year's celebrations, died today at the age of 82.

Clark's agent Paul Shefrin said in statement that the veteran host died this morning following a "massive heart attack."

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Born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on Nov. 30, 1929, Richard Wagstaff Clark began his lifelong career in show business before he was even out of high school. He started working in the mailroom of WRUN, a radio station in upstate New York run by his father and uncle. It wasn't long before the teenager was on the air, filling in for the weatherman and the announcer.

Clark pursued his passion at Syracuse University, working as a disc jockey at the student-run radio station while studying for his degree in business. After graduating in 1951, Clark went back to his family's radio station, but within a year, a bigger city and bigger shows were calling.

Clark landed a gig as a DJ at WFIL in Philadelphia in 1952, spinning records for a show he called "Dick Clark's Caravan of Music." There he broke into the big time, hosting Bandstand, an afternoon dance show for teenagers.

Within five years, the whole country was watching. ABC took the show national, and "American Bandstand" was born.

Blazing a New Trail in Pop Music

"American Bandstand's" formula was simple. Clean-cut boys and girls danced to the hottest hits and the newest singles. In between, Clark chatted with the teens, who helped "rate-a-record," turning songs into sensations. Everyone showed up on "American Bandstand," from Elvis Presley to Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry to Chubby Checker.

When Dick Clark moved to Hollywood in 1963, "American Bandstand" moved with him. He started Dick Clark Productions, and began cranking out one hit show after another; his name became synonymous with everything from the $25,000 "Pyramid" to "TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes" to the "American Music Awards." In 1972, Dick Clark became synonymous with one of the biggest nights of the year.

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New Year's Rockin' Eve

"Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" on ABC became a Dec. 31 tradition, with Clark hosting the festivities for more than three decades, introducing the entertainment acts and, of course, counting down to midnight as the ball dropped in New York's Times Square.

But the traditional celebration saw a temporary stop in 2004, when Clark suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and struggling to speak. Regis Philbin stepped in. But by the next New Year's Eve, Dick Clark was back, his speech still impaired. In halting words, he told the audience, "I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again. It's been a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I'm getting there."

But that didn't stop him: he returned each year, and recently he was joined by Ryan Seacrest, the radio and television personality known for E!, "American Idol," and a reality TV empire.

"I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend Dick Clark," Seacrest said in a statement today. "He has truly been one of the greatest influences in my life. I idolized him from the start, and I was graced early on in my career with his generous advice and counsel. When I joined his show in 2006 , it was a dream come true to work with him every New Year's Eve for the last 6 years. He was smart, charming, funny and always a true gentleman. I learned a great deal from him, and I'll always be indebted to him for his faith and support of me. He was a remarkable host and businessman and left a rich legacy to television audiences around the world. We will all miss him."

Robert Iger, Chairman and CEO for the Walt Disney Company -- the parent company of ABC, also remembered the television icon who was known for bringing memorable music to the masses.

"For more than half a century, Dick Clark brought the best of American music to audiences across the country, creating careers and countless fans for artists on his iconic shows, American Bandstand and New Year's Rockin' Eve," Iger said in a statement. "We're proud that ABC was home to those programs and will always be part of his legacy. On behalf of everyone at Disney and ABC, we send our sincere condolences to Dick's family, as well as the three generations of fans who will miss him as much as we do."

The Museum of Broadcast Communications has done the math, and figures that Dick Clark Productions has turned out more than 7,500 hours of television programming, including more than 30 series and 250 specials, as well as more than 20 movies for theatre and TV.

The Game Show Network plans to air a special tribute to Clark on Thursday along with additional airings of "$25,000 Pyramid," the rest of the week and Saturday.

All this earned Clark a long list of awards and accolades: Emmys, Grammys, induction in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It also made him one of the richest men in Hollywood; he also had stakes in a wide range of businesses, including restaurants, theatres and real estate.

In March, he put one of his homes on the market, asking $3.5 million for a one-of-a-kind house on 22 acres in Malibu, modeled after Fred and Wilma's house on "The Flintstones."

"America's Oldest Teenager"

Clark, whose eternally youthful look earned him the nickname "America's Oldest Teenager", is survived by his three children and his third wife, Keri Wigton, married to him since 1977. He credited his appearance to good genes, once saying "if you want to stay young looking, pick your parents very carefully."

Now, America's Oldest Teenager is gone, leaving his indelible mark on generations of fans, and helping change rock 'n' roll and TV forever. His signature sign-off was always "For now, Dick Clark � so long," said with a salute. Today, generations of Americans are saluting back.

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