The seemingly ageless Mr. Clark, with his wholesome appearance and ever-present grin, was promoted as “America’s oldest teenager” and was among the most powerful arbiters of pop-music taste for 35 years.
He was regarded as a man with an unerring sense of what Americans wanted to hear and see, and he achieved his greatest renown for an ability to connect with the tastes of the post-World War II baby-boom generation.
From 1952 to 1987, Mr. Clark hosted various incarnations of “American Bandstand,” first over the radio in Philadelphia and later on national television. The program was a sensation because of the prominent role it gave teenagers — who were always shown clean-cut in jackets, ties and sweaters — to vote on their favorite song.
Record industry executives paid attention to the young tastemakers, who were not always perfect in their judgment. The teens in 1963 had given the Beatles a thumbs down for “She Loves You” and their mop-top hairdos.
By the show’s 30th anniversary, almost 600,000 teenagers and 10,000 performers had appeared on the program. Among those to make early national appearances included Buddy Holly, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, and Simon and Garfunkel. Dance crazes such as the Twist and the Watusi could be traced to the “Bandstand” studio.
“Dick Clark was significant in transforming the record business into an international industry,” read the citation in 1993 when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The citation went on to say that “his weekly televised record hops — which predated MTV by 25 years — played an integral role in establishing rock-and-roll, keeping it alive and shaping its future.”
Although the citation called him affable and magnetic, critics were less kind. Washington Post TV writer Lawrence Laurent called him a bland mediocrity, adding that Mr. Clark “was final proof that one need not be handicapped by performing talent to succeed in television.”
After “American Bandstand” ended its run on ABC in 1987, Mr. Clark took it into syndication for two years and then handed it over to a new host, David Hirsch. It went off the air shortly thereafter.
Despite his prominence on camera, Mr. Clark said the vast majority of his work was done behind the scenes as a producer.
His self-titled production company was a force behind a slew of made-for-TV movies, beauty pageants, game shows and awards shows, including the American Music Awards and the Daytime Emmy and Golden Globe awards ceremonies. The private equity fund of Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder acquired Dick Clark Productions in 2007 for $175 million.
Dick Clark Productions provided ABC with the “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” TV spectacular every year since 1972. Mr. Clark had initially pitched the show as a hipper alternative to the long-standing broadcast tradition of airing Guy Lombardo’s big band playing “Auld Lang Syne” from New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel. Mr. Clark drew in audiences that inaugural year with performances by Three Dog Night, Helen Reddy, Al Green, and Blood, Sweat and Tears.