April 19, 2012— -- Given the outpouring of tributes following his Wednesday death, one thing is clear: There will never be another Dick Clark. But according to Clark's colleagues and those who've chronicled his career, one man, more than any other, is poised to carry on his legacy as an entertainment icon -- Ryan Seacrest.
"Ryan would be the one," said Eddie Kelly, one of the original regulars on "American Bandstand" and a longtime friend of Clark's. "I've always thought that. He's definitely it, if there's ever going to be a new Dick Clark, Ryan Seacrest would be the one I'd choose, and I know Dick felt that way too."
Clark seemed to pass the torch of his beloved "New Years Rockin' Eve" to Ryan Seacrest after suffering a stroke in 2004. Seacrest has always taken the prospect of filling Clark's shoes seriously, never more so than when he released a statement regarding Clark's death Wednesday afternoon.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend Dick Clark. He has truly been one of the greatest influences in my life," Seacrest said. "I idolized him from the start, and I was graced early on in my career with his generous advice and counsel."
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In an interview with "Nightline" ahead of December's "New Year's Rockin' Eve," Seacrest talked about the relationship he developed with the entertainer after joining the New Years Eve special in 2006.
"I looked forward to seeing him every year and I was always impressed with how he could make you feel so comfortable," Seacrest said. "You'd watch at home and you'd feel like you were part of the party and he was just talking to you. That's one of his amazing talents."
The 37-year-old E! anchor and "American Idol" host also reflected on his fond childhood memories of watching Clark's special at home growing up in Dunwoody, Ga.
"I remember as a kid standing in my living room with a pizza. Mom would leave 10 bucks on the table, order pizza with the babysitter and I was allowed to stay up and watch Dick Clark with the headset and the microphone and the big ABC logo," Seacrest said.
Besides having idolized Clark, Seacrest has the credentials. Radio show, check. Multiple TV hosting gigs, check. Production company, check.
"If Dick Clark's legacy is being one of the most recognizable entertainers and entrepreneurs in popular culture, then yes, Ryan Seacrest is the successor," said Melissa Grego, executive editor of Broadcasting & Cable.
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Both men got their start in radio.
Clark's family owned a radio station, WRUN, in upstate New York, where he first developed a thirst for the mike. His first professional gig was 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, that was launched out of Philly's local TV station WFIL-TV Channel 6. Within five years, it became the nationwide, iconic "American Bandstand."
Seacrest dropped out of college at age 20 and moved to Los Angeles. There, he landed a job at KYSR-FM, where he hosted "Ryan Seacrest for the Ride Home."
His salary: $15 an hour.
His show quickly became the most popular program on the station and was nationally syndicated. Then he, like Clark, took on TV, taking on hosting gigs for reality TV-type programs before being tapped as host of "American Idol" in 2004.
That same year, he was also given the reigns of "American Top 40" from creator Casey Kasem. He still holds both of those roles today, hosts a daily radio show, "On Air with Ryan Seacrest," for KIIS-FM, and hosts and produces programming for E! Entertainment Television.
Despite their parallel paths, today's times vs. America in the '50s makes Seacrest a different kind of entertainment beast than Clark, according to Grego.
"Ryan Seacrest is more ubiquitous today than Dick Clark was," she said. "That's partially due to Ryan's ambitions and activities and the fact that society is more connected than it was in Dick Clark's era. If you just take the TV part of the entertainment landscape, how that has evolved and spread out since Dick was 30 years old – back then, there were three networks. It was a completely different thing."
Seacrest's genial demeanor, endless supply of energy, and ability to seemingly be everywhere all the time has made him, as Village Voice cultural critic Michael Musto put it, an obvious choice whenever Hollywood is "fishing around for someone to carry on someone else's legacy." (See: Regis Philbin, Matt Lauer.)
"In this case, Dick was obviously helping pave the way for Ryan's ascendance, and now Ryan can probably do the New Year's countdown alone," Musto said. "But there was something about Dick Clark's persona that is completely irreplaceable. He was there, in the early days of the rock and pop explosion, and gave it a venue for the masses. He did that before social networking, reality TV, and other easy means of attention grabbing. That's an achievement that will linger long after the glow of the 'American Idol' competition fades."
Still, "American Bandstand" regular Eddie Kelly can't think of anyone more equipped to do what Clark did best.
"Ryan has the personality, he has the looks -- he just has it," Kelly said. "Some have it, some don't, and I feel that this guy has it."