John O’Hurley: Dick Clark Made Us All Look Good

The legendary entertainer elevated both his guests and viewers—a talent lost on many hosts today, writes “Seinfeld” and “Family Feud” star John O’Hurley of his friend and mentor.

04.19.12 1:29 PM ET

If Hallmark cards have taught us anything, it is that appreciation looks best in print. But how ironic to use these words on a page, a medium so foreign to someone like Dick Clark, to pause and take that half look over the shoulder to remember how large a shadow he cast in music and television.

His was the music that made us dance. He helped break a color barrier on television more than 50 years ago on American Bandstand. He reminded all of us that music was the magic that made you close your eyes and move for no other reason than “I liked the beat.” He reminded us that to be great, you first had to be good and simply have an opportunity, and that was his gift. He gave you a chance to be great.

I remember being 14 years old one summer, staying with a friend on a small island off Puget Sound in Washington. Several men were talking one night after dinner by the fire, one of them in entertainment field. Since I was an aspiring actor from the severing of my umbilical cord, his thoughts were particularly interesting to me. He was talking about Clark and what a savvy businessman he was in cutting management deals with young groups that crossed the stage at Bandstand. Actually, he was cruder than that. He used the phrase “SOB.” My guess is, now, that this gentleman was simply on the wrong end of a coin toss in Hollywood.

But I chose to remember the image of Dick Clark as the consummate host. I matured in Hollywood, and Clark stayed forever young. I realized that I had grown older than him one day when I appeared with him and Casey Kasem on a talk show. It was post-Seinfeld. They were promoting their 2000 New Year’s Eve bashes, while I was talking up some series I was busy killing. But I remember being on camera with them and remarking to the host, “I am the only guy under 50 on this stage, and I’m the guy with gray hair.” He was both a mentor and a friend.

Dick knew the nature of what a good host was. It was a standard that he never lost. His job was to make you look good. His job was to be the paternal figure, so that the viewers knew they were in good hands as long as they were watching, and he was in front on the camera. It is a quality sadly lost on many hosts today who seem to use their guests as setups for the own routines or use the bleep to censor what they believe to be clever.

Dick also knew the nature of good entertainment. A Dick Clark Production always rewarded talent rather ambition. His shows always celebrated those who told the story through music or comedy rather than tried to be the story with their own personal chaos. I can only imagine how difficult his last years of producing must have been.

It will be a different New Year’s this year for me. It is still difficult to watch the rockers of the ’50s and ’60s grow old and pass on, but now the Fountain of Perpetual Youth itself is finally gone as well. At midnight the ball will drop in Times Square, and tears will fall. I will remember a guy who taught me that being a host was an act of graciousness. And I will remember a guy who made his mark at the beginning of music and at the end of time.

Auld lang syne, Dick, auld lang syne.