The world is poised to celebrate another New Year’s Eve in Times Square. But this one will be unlike any in the last forty years, as there will be no Dick Clark preceding over the all-important ball drop.
Clark died in April at the age of 82. He suffered a massive heart attack, and was dealing with the complications from a stroke since 2004.
For the majority of his decades in the business, Clark’s boyish looks kept his title “Oldest Living Teenager” intact. He was synonymous with New Year’s Eve since creating his Rockin’ Eve special to usher in 1973. He marked his 40th anniversary with the holiday program just months before his death.
The show must go on, as New Year’s Eve goes on without Clark, and his beloved show continues his legacy and to bear his name.
In recent years, tourists or anyone else venturing to the Times Square Visitors Center, or online, were asked to write notes to help ring in the New Year that would be used as confetti.
This year, people are encouraged to leave fond farewells to Clark.
Tim Tompkins, Times Square Alliance president, says approximately 400 messages were left for the broadcasting icon. Those hand-written notes came from people from as far as away as Fiji and Yemen. Overall, they receive thousands of well-wishers year-round on various topics.
Tompkins tells FishbowlNY that Clark played a major psychological role when New York needed it most.
“For many decades, this was one of the few positive images that went out to the rest of the country of New York City and Times Square, Tompkins says. “This is the time you had Midnight Cowboy, you had Taxi Driver.”
At the same time, Times Square was not the sanitized, family version you see today. It was an underbelly of society with porn shops and drug dealers dotting the lights on Broadway.
Tompkins points to a New York Times article from 1979 stating that an extra 40 percent presence of NYPD officers “to improve crowd control and contain any violence or outbreaks of crime.”
“It’s more and more remarkable that [Clark] chose to stick to it all those years through thick and thin,” Tompkins says.
Instead of the crime-riddled neighborhood of the late 1970s New York City that Tompkins calls ”the most dangerous block in America,” Clark’s pomp and circumstance became the place to be New Year’s Eve, if you weren’t among the throngs — 1 million deep. There were marriages live on his Rockin’ Eve, and, of course, his carefully selected musical performances. Most of the 40 years, though, that portion of the show was taped from Los Angeles.
In 2006, Clark broke the New Year’s mold again with his first live performance from Times Square, minutes before midnight. Mariah Carey became the answer to the trivia question. This year’s “headliner” is Taylor Swift. In just a few years, it has become a New Year’s Eve fixture.
“Literally, we as organizers of the event couldn’t even play music over the loudspeakers, because there was a concern on the part of the NYPD that the crowd would get rowdy and out of control,” Tompkins recalls.
He says even though there are several televised options, providing live entertainment and the ball drop from One Times Square, there really is no competition.
“[The show] continues to bring the highest level of entertainment to Times Square,” Tompkins says. “They continue to have a sense of pride and ownership about putting on the best possible show with “A” list talent. There are different networks and different people broadcasting from Times Square, but Dick Clark Productions consistently have the most A-level talent.
And with Ryan Seacrest, who joined Clark to handle the “heavy lifting” since Rockin’ Eve 2006, it’s a seemless transition of hosts.
“They have an amazing successor who is personally appealing and also has his finger on the pulse of pop culture and pop music in America,” Tompkins says.
But first, one final, fitting tribute is planned for Clark. Each year, new Waterford crystal tile are added to the ball. This year, Clark’s widow, Kari, who would famously kiss his wife every year as the clock struck 12, will be presented with a crystal panel inscribed with Clark’s name. It will then be inserted into the ball for its traditional descension.
Photo credit 1: emmys.com