NEW YORK – The death of Dick Clark on Wednesday marked the end of his courageous effort to recover from a stroke suffered in December 2004. His efforts to battle back to health were far greater than publicly known.
In 2004, this reporter was a producer at ABC’s “Good Morning America” and had been assigned to cover Dick Clark’s health crisis.
Early in December, reports surfaced that Dick had been hospitalized in Los Angeles after suffering a “minor” stroke.
His publicist, Amy Streibel, told reporters Dick was “just fine.” Some reports speculated Dick might even return to host his “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” show later that month.
But we at GMA knew better.
Word had surfaced at ABC that Dick’s condition was far worse than publicly reported. We even had doubts Dick would ever return to host his fabled show.
Our challenge was to balance our obligations to report what we knew to our audience, while respecting the privacy of Dick’s family as they and his doctors decided how to handle his dilemma.
Earlier in the year, Dick revealed he had diabetes.
In the end, a decision was made by senior officials at “Good Morning America” to respect the family’s privacy. ABC brass huddled and Regis Philbin was selected to guest host “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” that year.
Nothing was ever said about what we knew until now, after Dick’s passing.
In November 2005, we at ABC were pleased to learn Dick, after a difficult year of intense physical therapy, had all intentions to return to the studio facility just above Times Square to again host his annual show.
But, just what would Dick do? His role on the show was a guarded secret. The program was a property of Dick Clark Productions, not ABC, so gossip at the network was rampant. In fact, most of the production crew at the Times Square facility worked for Dick, and they weren’t talking.
Were they trying to hide something, or were they simply trying to boost TV ratings for Dick’s return?
In retrospect, it was a little of both.
Late in the afternoon of December 31, 2005, the GMA studio was sealed off as Dick’s team entered the building to prepare for the “broadcast of the year.” Photographers and paparazzi descended on the studio’s neighborhood, but ABC security and the NYPD kept them quite a distance away.
Nothing was going to spoil the intense interest in Dick’s condition prior to his return to air later that evening.
But, inside ABC’s headquarters uptown, many staffers were able to “snoop” on the broadcast’s preparations as we watched several dress rehearsals on our internal TV system.
We saw a frail, but determined, Dick sitting at the anchor desk looking like he was a captain on a battleship. He needed the assistance of a mechanical walker and the unwavering support of his wife Kari. His stamina was limited and he needed periodic rest breaks.
While his physical recovery was obviously a work in progress, mentally he was ready and eager to return to the airwaves.
And as the clock began its countdown to midnight, the broadcast began. But unlike past programs, that year’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” would open not with Dick but with Ryan Seacrest and actress Hillary Duff. Dick would make his return to television just prior to the ball atop Times Square being lowered. That spot, would be reserved exclusively for the nation’s “oldest teenager.”
As the time approached for Dick to make his first public appearance in more than a year, his wife Kari hovered over him, powdering his face and reviewing the details of his speech to his TV audience.
About 15 minutes before the ball dropped, Dick Clark made what many consider a miraculous return to network television.
Speaking softly, but sternly, with a voice heavily slurred, Dick revealed just how serious his stroke had been, but how determined he was to work his way back to full recovery.
In a way, it was sad to see what was once a vibrant radio voice now struggling to convey to his fans just how he felt.
It was a moving moment, bringing many inside the ABC Television Center to tears. Tears not of sorrow, but of respect for Dick’s fighting spirit.
Though his appearance was brief — less than 30 minutes of a four-hour broadcast — the determination and the impact of Dick’s fighting spirit lasted well beyond that evening.
I was in charge of producing GMA’s coverage of Dick’s return to TV. Rather than center on the difficult year of recovery, I opted, like Dick, to report on his future, rather than his past.
To Dick, the news that needed to be reported was no matter how many roadblocks life may throw your way, with determination and love from family and friends one can achieve miracles.
For seven subsequent years, Dick Clark gave us all miracles, and for that we can only say, “Thank you, Dick. Thank you for all the memories and inspiration.”
Those will last forever.