This is the face I remember, and the one I’ll recall most fondly. It’s nice to see the ones when he (impossibly) looked even younger or the ones where he (impossibly) looked so much older, but this is the face indelibly imprinted in my mind.
As a child of the ’70s, I got to know Dick Clark once he was already a legend, but before he became the ubiquitous go-to guy for everything from new music to New Year’s Eve. He was New Year’s Eve and for that alone, he will be remembered fondly. Plenty of other outlets will dutifully report his myriad, mind-boggling (in terms of variance and success) enterprises. Mostly he was famous for being who he was: Dick (motherfucking) Clark.
Here’s the thing: I’ve long since acknowledged that it’s only going to get more difficult for folks from my general generation to behold all the heroes (the super and the super-sized) dropping like flies as time marches unkindly on.
Still, there are a handful of larger than life archetypes who we could never imagine dying, and will probably never reconcile no longer having around. Clint Eastwood is one; Keith Richards is another. But both of those dudes, for very different reasons (aside, of course, from the beastly burden of time not being on any of our sides) have worn their age on their faces: it has lent character and augmented gravitas. It has reminded us that even our gods play by rules they could not create. But Dick Clark was different, if for no other reason that he looked pretty much the same for decades. He was a real-life Dorian Gray, and it almost made sense that he sold his soul: how else could you get that rich, seem that happy and make that much money unless darker forces were pulling the proverbial strings? Even worse (for the haters and cynics), his act was genuine; it wasn’t even an act. Check out some interviews: he had no illusions what he did and what he had done (i.e., he wasn’t kidding anyone about his lasting imprint on the cultural landscape, but of course that is usually something only people who write about the culture from the outside looking in bother to obsess about, or better yet, people who have not made the money or connections to have any real impact). He talked about bringing a modicum of escape and pleasure to the people: no more, no less. And it worked. People responded to him and his ideas for a reason: they worked. He worked: as a concept, as a celebrity.
It didn’t seem like he would ever age, much less die.
Then he had his stroke. That was tough enough (nobody wants to see anyone suffer, but it’s always harder to see the strong ones surrender to the illimitable forces of Nature who, as we all know, is a Bitch). But he kept on rocking New Year’s Eve. What was he supposed to do, sit at home and watch? No, he had to be Dick Clark because no one else could be. That was his legacy, this is what gave his life (our lives, at least for a few minutes every December 31) more meaning. Yes, it was painful to watch –and hear– him, however bravely, soldier through those countdowns (particularly with the oleaginous Ryan Seacrest breathing down his neck). But I’m glad he did, and I’m certain I’m not alone. The only thing that would have been more intolerable than seeing this once-impregnable institution showing the slings and arrows of outrageous –but no longer impossible– fortune would have been hearing that he was at home, in a chair, watching what only he could do.
No one else will do it like he did. No one else will do a lot of things like him. That is what we mean when we say someone was one-of-a-kind.
Dick Clark didn’t cure cancer or feed the foodless, and he never claimed he was trying to. He didn’t do anything other than make the world a bit less serious and a tad more enjoyable. How many people can we honestly say that about?