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Posted by on Jan 2, 2006 in At TMV | 12 comments

A Determined Dick Clark Returns To New Year’s Eve

NOTE: This was posted early yesterday but due to some of the issues raised we’re posting it again today, higher up in the actual order in which it was posted. Newer posts are below this so please keep scrolling down.

He was called “America’s oldest teenager” until way after that phrase even remotely made sense. He produced a classic rock T.V. show, branched out into topnotch concerts, TV production, business commications and even restaurants.

Then, suddenly, he was felled by a stroke and remained largely out of sight, except for the occasional sad story or photo essay in one of the tabloids.

But on New Year’s Eve he returned….briefly…to what was either his last hurrah, or the first step on a slow, difficult personal comeback trail. Dick Clark was on TV again last night — New Year’s Eve. The AP:

After being absent last year because of a stroke, Dick Clark, appearing fragile, returned for the televised 1-minute countdown of the ball drop.

“It’s real good to be back with you again this year,” Clark, 76, said slowly, slurring his speech. “You and I have been a part of each other’s lives for so many New Year’s Eves that I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”

Clark’s appearance even had the usually phlegmatic Mayor Michael Bloomberg emoting.

“It just would not be New Year’s Eve without Dick Clark,” Bloomberg said. “I know I speak for all New Yorkers and all Americans: Dick, we love you. It’s gonna be a great 2006.”

The New York Daily News:

Legendary New Year’s Eve host Dick Clark made a gallant return to Times Square last night, anchoring ABC’s Times Square broadcast of the big countdown a year after suffering a major stroke….

….Seated inside at a desk, Clark spoke bravely about the difficulties he’s had recovering from the stroke that prevented him from hosting the show on Dec. 31, 2004.

“I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again,” he said. “It’s been a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I’m getting there.”

TV personality Ryan Seacrest helped host the show, leading to Clark’s traditional countdown to midnight and kiss with his wife.

“[This is] the happiest time of all of my life,” Clark said.

ABC News:

Clark, 76, declined interviews and television appearances as he rehabilitated, and his spokesman said the former “American Bandstand” host viewed New Year’s as his personal coming-out party. Tabloid pictures of Clark using a cane or wheelchair led to questions about whether he was up to it.

He remained seated during “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” his right hand resting on the desk and his left arm by his side. Clark counted down the seconds until the ball dropped. He stayed at his desk past 1 a.m. as the crowds thinned out.

So what was it all about — the appearance of a shadow of a once-robust Clark on television on a huge evening for ABC and the world? Was his condition last night a surprise? No. The New York Times reported early yesterday:

Meanwhile, a promotional photograph of Mr. Clark with his New Year’s Eve co-hosts, Ryan Seacrest and Hilary Duff, that was distributed by ABC has been shown to have been digitally altered, with an image of Mr. Clark from before his stroke inserted into the frame…. And public statements about Mr. Clark’s health by his colleagues, while appearing to stick to talking points, have not been particularly encouraging.

“I don’t think he is 100 percent,” [Clark spokesman] Mr. Seacrest told Associated Press radio this week, “but he will not be in a wheelchair on the telecast.”

Responding to widespread speculation in the media about Mr. Clark’s health, Mr. Shefrin has steadily insisted that Mr. Clark is well enough to go through with the show. “He’s doing real good,” Mr. Shefrin said. “He’s not 100 percent. He’s not the exact person he was standing in the square.

So no one expected him to be a bundle of energy, not even his own spokesman.

And yes, some viewers, particularly younger viewers, might have missed it and wondered what this fragile, old (at 76-years-old definitely the world’s oldest teenager and the only one on Social Security) guy doing on TV with his slurred speech.

But — for once — this wasn’t an appearance about Dick Clark as the affable host or show-biz mogul, artificially guffawing and slapping his thighs as he and Ed McMahon showed a bunch of often embarrassingly lame-bloopers in shows heavily laced with (definitely needed) canned laughter. He wasn’t being the super-smooth emcee who was the quintessential “pro.” He wasn’t introducing a rock act.

For once he made a brief appearance. And from Clark’s standpoint, it was clearly therapeutic; he was out there (briefly) working and part of the outside world again.

But there was a bigger issue that will be missed by those who will (inevitably) criticize ABC for putting Clark on (how DARE they ruin the New Year celebrations by putting on someone who is a traditional host and remind us that there is illness and fraility, even among the famous). Realistically, ABC wasn’t going to gain a ton of rating points by putting Clark on.

Clark’s appearance was a testament to the never-say-die human spirit. He was going to be on no matter what this year. And it’s a testament to ABC‘s willingness to air, ever-so-briefly, a fellow human being’s act of personal courage and grit and let a bit of reality intrude on New Year’s Eve.

Those of us who have had relatives felled by strokes know the harsh reality: it is not easy coming back from them, particularly at an advanced age. And many give up on life.

Dick Clark hasn’t. And ABC let us see it.

UPDATE: Tom Watson gives his (always special) must-read take on Dick Clark’s appearance.

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