briefly, on the passing of dick clark

No small part of my [likely misspent] childhood found yours truly in front of the television on beautiful summer afternoons, wasting away watching reruns of 80s game shows on USA. Many of my childhood years were during the last golden age of network game shows, and when those shows went into syndication, I watched. I probably should have been working on my throwing arm, out getting into trouble or any number of other things.

While many baby boomers, those 30-40 years my senior, lament the loss of a rock and roll television icon, I remember the genial and age-defying Dick Clark from his run on $xx,000 Pyramid and co-hosting Bloopers and Practical Jokes with Ed McMahon. Clark died today at 82 after spending the last decade in and out of treatment for any number of physical maladies.

Of course, I didn’t know Clark, and I am under no compunction in saying that he, like so many other entertainment icons, probably was a lot more salty and abrasive in real life than his on-screen persona would ever betray. All I knew was that this guy was everywhere–the networks are amongst the most provincial entities in any business, and he spent time at all three: Pyramid ran on all three during its run with Clark as host, Bloopers on NBC, of course, American Bandstand and his eponymous New Year’s specials on ABC for decades. Clark was a force for five decades in music and television, and everyone from my father to my oldest nephew has probably seen Clark on television in some capacity. He managed to remain relevant, if less visible later on, through four generations of cultural consumption. Most celebrities are successful if they remain relevant for four weeks anymore.

What started as a joke between me and my friend Erin as an adolescent became co-opted common practice for me, Clark’s trademark sign-off salute. While that might come off as cheesy and contrived–it is–the fact is that we all ape something from someone else in forming ourselves. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s who we are: the hybrid of memory and relationships. Watching all those repeats of Pyramid taught me word and conceptual association and I’m convinced it helped me develop skills in rhetoric and wit.

And yes, I’ve all but confessed to the cyberverse that I’m a giant dork. I’m just stating what you’re thinking. Then again, if we were to pry into your mind, we’d find something equally dorky about you, too. Might as well be forthright about it.

With that, another piece of my childhood is buried. A lot of those game show hosts are gone: Allen Ludden (a veritable genius, native Sconnie and the creeper who eventually won Betty White’s heart), Bill Cullen, Peter Tomarken, Bert Convy (of the permahair persuasion), Ray Combs (the subject of a very morbid joke between myself and another friend from adolescence.) The age of the television personality is long gone. Who is going to carry that mantle? Ryan Seacrest? Chris Harrison? Right…

In the end, life has no bonus round, no winner’s circle and no parting gifts. All we can do is command the stage we’re given and exit stage right. And salute the audience. After all, they make you who you are. So long, Dick Clark.


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