Dick Clark's Very Public Disability


America’s oldest teenager, Dick Clark, turned 80 this past November. He’s been hosting Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve since December 31, 1972, missing only once (December 31, 2004) because he had a stroke in late 2004. Regis Philbin pinch hit for him that year. Back on the air December 31, 2005, Clark broadcasts from inside the ABC studio. Ryan Seacrest has been co-host of the show working the crowds with various female co-hosts outdoors at Times Square in New York.

If you have watched the broadcast since Clark’s return after his stroke, you know that his speech sounds much different than it did before his stroke. The stroke affected his movement as well; Clark uses a walker or wheelchair to get around, though they don’t show him using these on the air.

A co-worker of mine, Jonathan Wilson, observed that Clark's on-air work brings people face to face with a very public figure who has acquired a disability. Jonathan told me that he likes to go on Twitter during public events to see what people are saying. Thanks to Jonathan, I now know how to search Twitter comments too. Here’s what a few people said about Dick Clark's show this year:

  • Sethmacfarlane: Dick Clark was still more articulate than Ke$ha.
  • 1st_Son_of_MD: If you want a good laugh watch/listen to Dick Clark's #nye countdown
  • Tierneysdayout: I love that Dick Clark still hosts his own #nye show. Let's go 2011! It's going to be a good year!
  • lollyjean: I love you, Dick Clark!!!
  • tracybjelland: Dick Clark looks like a ventriloquist doll...creepy!
  • Will_967: Why the @#?% do they still let Dick Clark talk during the broadcast?
  • RyanLi11: Did anyone else understand what it was Dick Clark was saying? I sure as @#?% didn't.
  • LPizzle: This Dick Clark @#?% is sad. When its difficult to clasp your hands together, its time to retire. Happy New Year everybody !!!
  • estellawellness: So good to see Dick Clark!

Some laugh at him. Some appreciate him. Some think he should quit. Some are creeped out by him. Some love him. Some are inspired by him. Some swear at him. These are common responses that people with disabilities have to deal with on a day to day basis. As for me, I’m delighted that the suits at ABC continue to keep Clark on the air because he brings a charm, warmth, and optimism that I appreciate as the old year ends and the new year begins. This was true before his stroke as well as after. His stroke changed him, but he has not allowed his stroke to define him.

Most people I know who live with disabilities want to be identified, not by their disability, but by their unique blend of gifts, challenges, desires, goals, dreams, and so on. Although I disagree with many of the comments made about Dick Clark, I’m grateful for his presence in such a public show and for the dialogue that has ensued. Perhaps his presence on New Year’s Eve is one small sign that we as a society are becoming just a bit more ready to accept people with disabilities in public and to expand our definition of competence.

What do you think?

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Thanks Mark, Dick Clark is a heroic man that I now respect more than I did before. Thanks Mark for the story. It provides inspiration for people like me to see this mans struggle and sucess in spite of severe handicaps.



Thanks Mark,  what an insightful piece.

I give Kudos to Dick Clark for bringing the reality of life to the screen.  It's good to see a public figure unafraid to show his disabilities.  Make that a triple kudos.


Wow, some of that is hard to read but thanks for keeping it real, Mark. Great post.

Mark's post about Dick Clark reminded me of a statistic from the Calvin Collge research on abuse completed back in 1990.  Persons with a disability were 2-3 times more likely to be victimized by abuse than were persons without a disability.  Then last night, I was reading an article on bullying and it said as many as "one in four US students are bullied with some frequency, with verbal bullying being the most common form..."  The article went on to say that children with disabilities may be "at highest risk of being bullied". 

We've all read with concern the increasing number of suicides related to bullying.  And we are more aware today of the power of cyber-bullying (the bully doesn't have to be anywhere near a person to bully him or her electronically). 

Children need our protection - sometimes because of a disability and sometimes not.  Whether our unique calling is a ministry to abused persons or to persons with a disability, this is an issue where we can join hands, join voices, join hearts, join passions to bring about safer and healthy places for children to worship and to attend school.

Thanks for letting me share my voice.   Beth A. Swagman, Director of Safe Church Ministry for the CRCNA

I think it was courageos of Dick Clark ot continue on to the best of his ability even though he had the effects of his stroke.