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 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.