FIRST PERSON | Struggling to fit in with my classmates, I saw Dick Clark as the link to what was normal adolescent behavior. Clark, dead at 82, managed to look 27 when he was 60. But it was as host of "American Bandstand" that he really earned the moniker of American's Oldest Teenager with the comfort and acceptance he provided to awkward tweens like me.
He hosted the show from 1956 to 1989. Like many kids, I rushed home after school to catch each program. It was my window to rock 'n' roll. When I desperately wanted to learn how to dance The Twist, I mirrored Chubby Checker as he gyrated all over the Bandstand set. But when I turned off the set to do homework, I honestly believed Dick Clark had taught me the steps -- and that I did them perfectly.
A few of the girls began wearing white canvas tennis shoes to junior high. In order to protect the footwear from the layers of dirt and snow of Ohio winters, they painted layers of white shoe polish on the canvas. My mother took a dim view of stiff tennis shoes in December. However, once I pointed out all the girls on American Bandstand with white feet, she agreed that if Dick Clark allowed it in Philadelphia, it must be all right.
In an era when many entertainers left college or even high school for the lure of cash and other perks, he represented an extra layer of credibility for both parents and kids. He went to Syracuse University and managed to graduate in 1951.
Though also a producer, Clark remained a perpetually young TV host in my eyes. When my daughter was fussy one New Year's Eve , I flipped on the tube. Dick Clark grinned at me. She calmed down and stared at those oh-so-white teeth until finally nodding off.
When he suffered a major stroke in 2004, I assumed that being a perpetual teenager, Dick Clark would overcome it. Watching as he slurred his words during his next New Year's Eve broadcast left me shocked and saddened. His death from a heart attack marks the loss of a man who had a huge gift for helping my generation grow up. I'll miss you, Dick.
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