I am still undecided if Dick Clark’s return to television on New Year’s Eve was exploitive, sad or brave. It was probably a mix of all three but that’s a coward’s analysis so I will pick a vein and rip it open.

As a television professional I confess to cringing when Clark made his debut and mumbled and stumbled his way through his live greeting. I knew Clark knew he was in more pain then than he was when the stroke hit him. A year ago Dick Clark suffered a severe stroke that made him aphasic for awhile.

It took him a year to learn how to speak again. Over the next half-hour his speech improved but he was still difficult to understand at times. ABC Television likely wanted the high ratings as people tuned in to watch the Dick Clark Freak Show and in many ways it was just that because Clark’s hallmark over his long entertainment career is his breezy presentation style and his return was anything but breezy. I know Dick Clark wanted to prove to the world severe stroke patients can come back from their illness, but he is obviously not back all the way to his old self and perhaps Clark was quietly letting us know — that’s okay.

We’re human.

We’re imperfect and sometimes human speech is breezy and sometimes you have to struggle to understand what is being spoken. There is no doubt, however, that Dick Clark was brave and daring to make such a bold return to television — brave and daring and bold are also hallmarks of Clark’s career — and the lesson many of us now know is if Dick Clark can risk his legacy, reputation and quality-of-life to show us just how devastating a stroke can be to a personality, a family and a man, then we’re all better off for having him triumphantly return to network television to stare down Death with us live on the air.

18 Comments

  1. I wish my grandmother communicated so well now.
    I wouldn’t even be sure if she understood half of what I said if it weren’t for non-verbal communication – her facial expressions changing when I mention something I know she knows about, like when I told her I was considering getting her a Days of our Lives sweatshirt.

  2. I saw only a few minutes of the ABC broadcast just after midnight, and my husband and I couldn’t believe it. I felt sad for him. And now I realize that if he was better as the night went on, how he must have been at the beginning.
    It seems like just after he had the stroke that the media tried to downplay the seriousness of the stroke. Or that was the feeling I got by reading some of the updates. It was apparent Saturday night just how serious that stroke was.

  3. Hi Carla!
    Yes, it was much worse earlier in the evening. His first live spot around 11:35pm was hard to watch. He forgot what he was saying and then repeated himself and then slurred his way through the rest of it. He kept persevering, though, and I admire his willpower but to not only live, but to return to reclaim the life he once had.
    The stroke was more serious than publicly revealed — Dick even said so in his opening remarks — and for him make that show a goal for his recovery was admirable though I’m not sure it was the best thing for that particular show. A different public debut may have been more effective and appropriate than one on a New Year’s celebration show with Mariah Carey starring in fashionable sexual tatters.

  4. My grandmother, who will be 86 at the end of next month, has had two separate incidents of mini-strokes last year, the most recent being at the beginning of December. She’s a trooper, and she’s improving all the time. Of course, I think her motivation comes from getting out from under my aunt’s (her daughter’s) thumb.
    I love my aunt, but she’s ignorant about a lot of things, and sometimes I don’t think she realizes how mean her words sound to my grandmother. It’s starting to really tick off my dad.

  5. Carla —
    That’s a difficult situation. It’s hard growing old in America. There is only admiration for youth and little respect for the aged. I hope you will continue to support and defend your grandmother. She needs you!

  6. My Mom had a stroke and had to completely relearn how to play the piano. She also slurs her words sometimes but she has a very active life. She volunteers to help teach children to learn to read. She also still teaches piano. Here she is playing at Christmas this (last?) year.
    I agree that growing old in America is tough. It isn’t for sissies!

  7. I, too, only tuned in very briefly just after midnight and was saddened by how difficult Dick Clark’s speech was, but I, too, thought how brave he was to be out there, unashamed. I do hope that it didn’t take too much out of him, though, because I’m sure most viewers were more interested in Mariah and her, um, assets and were not worthy of such courage from Mr. Clark. (I got here via BE, by the way.)

  8. My dad suffered from a very severe stroke almost fifteen years ago. We found out that he was brain dead several days later, and fortunately he took the “machine choice” from us two days later when he died.
    Before the brain dead diagnosis, people kept on telling me how “great” rehab could be. Only I knew my dad, and knew that if he couldn’t excell he would rather be dead
    I am not comparing his situation to Dick Clark’s at all. Much has been learned since my dad’s strle; there are medical techniques avaliable today that weren’t avaliable then that might have helped had they been applied to my dad at the time.
    But my dad’s stroke began my fascination with gerentolgy. I went to grad school to become a geriatric social worker because at the time in NY, only social workers and psychologists were licensed.
    I’m actually planning on writing about Dick Clark today. Yes it was very brave of him; more brave than most people can fathom.
    But it made me so sad because Dick Clark has been a constant in my life forever. Watching him forced me to come to some realizations
    Not being abble to watch Dick Clark on New Years doesn’t mean that a person is more interested in Mariah or a coward. It can mean many other things.

  9. Thanks for sharing your Dad’s experience with us, Pia. I feel for you.
    That mut have been a really terrible and difficult time for you and your family.
    I am glad to discover that experience took you down a brighter path of learning and I look forward to reading your Dick Clark piece!