Millions have been saddened by the news of Dick Clark‘s tragic passing. One individual with a close, personal relationship with the late broadcasting great is a man who has achieved a similar status in the radio world: former CBS-FM jock and radio legend Bruce Murrow, known to millions as “Cousin Brucie.” He spoke with CBS’s Rockin’ Ron Parker today to recall what a fantastic person Clark was, both in the public eye and as a close friend.
“He left us with such a wonderful, broad legacy,” says the former CBS-FM jock. “The estate he gave us was his legacy of music and the love of music.”
Clark was more than just a peer to Murrow. As neighbors in the Big Apple, the two spent a great deal of time together, sharing ideas and laughs, usually over dinner. The bond they shared has made the loss of Clark difficult to swallow for Murrow.
“I don’t want to think about losing him because I still can’t believe it. I really haven’t had the chance to absorb it yet.”
But Murrow doesn’t shy away from answering questions about his late friend. He’s found that many people are curious to know his opinion of the former American Bandstand host, with one word springing to mind: dignity.
“He had great dignity on television and radio. He presented the music, our rock ‘n’ roll, with great dignity.”
Before American Bandstand, rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t widely accepted into households. Clark brought “The Twist” not only to dance floors, but into living rooms. The untamed energy of Jerry Lee Lewis wasn’t reserved to just clubs anymore, it was in the homes of America being watched by parents and their teens alike.
“We were being accepted into people’s homes,” says Murrow. “Dick Clark was safe and he gave people hope.”
Being “safe” meant being welcomed into parent’s homes each week without resistance and forming a bond with the teenagers of the country. That relationship would grace Clark with the nickname “America’s Oldest Teenager.” And though that was the persona Clark took on, it certainly wasn’t the only side to the complex individual he was.
“That was a fun little thing,” Murrow says of Clark’s moniker. “Dick Clark was not a teenager, believe me.”
“There were two Dick Clarks,” Murrow would add. “The Dick Clark we knew as a personality, a human being. And then there was the Dick Clark who sat in a boardroom. That was a tough guy.”
Dick Clark Productions was founded in 1957, and under it’s namesake’s wing, would go on to produce numerous hit programs, from classic shows like American Bandstand and Where the Action Is to contemporary shows such as So You Think You Can Dance.
“He was astute, intelligent, very sophisticated and God help you if you got in the way of what he wanted to do,” says Murrow of Clark’s work ethic. “When he believed in something, nothing would stop him.”
Clark’s television persona and business acumen were accompanied by a common theme: a nurturing nature, which Ron Parker recalls during his conversation with Murrow.
“He used to call me and wish me a happy birthday. I’m going to miss that.”
That caring nature was something Clark carried with him at all times, especially with the artists he helped turn into stars, a number that can not be calculated very easily, according to Murrow.
“If you got a hold of a New York City or Newark (New Jersey) telephone book, you would be able to fill up the pages with who he has helped.”
And Clark did more than just give them a shot on television. He took them out on the road so they could be seen live and in person by the masses. And much like American Bandstand, there was no color barrier: talent was talent, so if you had it, you got to play.
“There would be black acts and white acts. He knew that there was not supposed to be any racial barrier.”
Maybe where American Bandstand aired, early on in Philadelphia and later in Los Angeles, racial divides weren’t as prominent as they were in the South. While taking trips with various artists passed the Mason-Dixon Line, Clark would encounter racism. Venues would ask that black and white acts to stay in separate rooms and never play together on the same stage. That was unacceptable to Clark.
“He would stand up, look at that guy and say, ‘Unless you take that back and apologize to my people, we’re getting back on the bus and there’s no show,'” says Murrow on Clark’s reaction when encountered with racism.
Most of the time, Clark got what he asked for and the show would go on. But there were rare instances when venues wouldn’t budge on their bigoted stance, and being a man of his word, Clark would gather his people and head home.
“There were a couple times he took the bus and left,” says Murrow. “He loved these people and believed in them.”
Murrow fondly remembers his time as “Cousin Brucie” in front of a microphone of CBS-FM, and he wanted to share one last piece of knowledge about his late friend with the listeners over the airwaves.
“I always want to talk about Dick Clark in the present, not the past.”