Dick Clark’s Legacy from a Christopher Perspective

A lot will be written over the next few days about Dick Clark’s legacy because of TV shows like “American Bandstand,” “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” and others. But from a simple, human perspective, I think one of Dick Clark’s most important legacies is more recent.

After his stroke in December 2004, many people – myself included – assumed this would be the end of Clark’s on-camera career. When he said he was returning to “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” in 2005, I thought that either the stroke hadn’t been as bad as the public was led to believe or that “America’s oldest teen” had a remarkable recovery. It turned out neither prediction was true. Clark returned to TV visibly and audibly affected by his stroke. His speech was slurred and he wasn’t able to move like he used to. Yet underneath the debilitation, there was a spark of determination. Clark was down, but he wasn’t out. I admired him for that.

In a TV landscape that often presents us with unattainable images of physical perfection, here was a man showing us that life could still be lived with purpose even after something bad has happened to us. Human dignity was still there, and would continue to be there even if Clark had never been able to return to television. In a way, his presence on TV after the stroke was a gift to viewers – a reminder that life goes on even when things are not perfect, even when people are not perfect – and that’s okay. Plus, Clark wasn’t presenting this image on a TV show geared toward senior citizens. The audience for “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” had a large component of young people, so they were seeing something unique on television that could potentially have an impact on the way they think about dealing with disabilities.

Some thought Dick Clark should have called it a career after his stroke. Better to preserve the memory of the past than to force people to watch this unpleasant reality. I would disagree. I admire Clark for his strength, perseverance and witness in coming back to television. It’s a witness that might impact more people than a sermon ever could because it’s a real-life example that millions of people saw with their own eyes.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

About Tony Rossi

After graduating from St. John's University in New York with degrees in Communications and English, Tony Rossi found a job at the Catholic media organization, The Christophers, that allowed him to indulge his interest in religion, media, and pop culture. He served as The Christophers' TV producer for 11 years, and is currently the host and producer of the organization's radio show/podcast Christopher Closeup, writer and editor of their syndicated Light One Candle column, and producer/scriptwriter of the annual Christopher Awards ceremony.