Dick Clark, who died in April 2012 at the age of 82, was often heralded (and occasionally derided) as “America’s oldest teenager.” But that glib description barely began to encompass or describe what the man meant, and what he accomplished, as a shaper and arbiter of American pop culture in the latter half of the 20th century.
As the editors of the LIFE book, Dick Clark and the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, put it in the introduction to their recent celebration of his life and career: “They could have crafted a movie about him: the fellow who came to town — in his case, Philadelphia — and won everyone over. They didn’t have to. Dick Clark wrote the script himself.”
“It’s so strange that he was so absolutely right for rock ‘n roll,” the editors point out. “He wasn’t musically gifted, he wasn’t downtrodden, he wasn’t particularly rebellious, he wasn’t bluesy or what might be called soulful — he wasn’t any of that. He wasn’t even long haired, and it is assumed he showered every morning. But he was the right person at just the right time and place to shake American culture [the way] Elvis or Brando or the Beatles would shake American culture. Yes, Dick Clark.”
Here, in memory of a steady fixture on the American music scene across six tumultuous, wildly varied decades, LIFE.com offers a selection of photographs from the book — pictures that show a man who loved what he did, and who shared that enduring enthusiasm with generations.