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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

You Had a Stroke (Doo Wop) and I Couldn't Love You Any More 

Controversy ensued last New Year's Eve.

A few minutes after I wrote this post, ABC began its tape-delayed airing of the New Year's Eve celebration. (In the Pacific time zone, we see very few things live, other than sporting events.) I asked my daughter to switch from Regis, and go to ABC just in time for Ryan Seacrest's introduction of Dick Clark.

Once he started speaking, it was apparent why he hadn't appeared on TV since his stroke. This wasn't quite as hard to watch as Muhammad Ali - Clark is in much better shape than Ali - but it's still a shock to see someone who was once noted for his youthful exuberance, and now has difficulty speaking.

Here's part of what he said:

"Last year I had a stroke....It left me in bad shape. I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again. It's been a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I'm getting there."

Other reactions:

From LeLo:

I dunno. I think my memory and thoughts of Dick [would] be better pre-stroke....

From Joel Keller:

As an on-air personality, Dick Clark's bread-and-butter has always been his voice. Indeed, Dick's voice is so familiar to millions of people, there was more concern over how he'd sound than over how he'd look. Ryan Seacrest, maybe in an effort to quell speculation, told AP Radio that, while his voice isn't quite the same, that "it definitely sounds like Dick."

Well, not quite. As soon as I heard Dick's voice, a feeling of sadness came over me. His speech was badly slurred, and the slurring was more pronounced the faster he spoke. He was hoarse at times, and did not have the breath to complete some words. At the top of the broadcast, Clark mentioned that the stroke left him in bad shape, that he had to learn how to walk and talk again; the fact that he was even able to make it to air and be even moderately understandable is a great feat, and speaks to Dick's work ethic and determination. But last night was a realization that the ever-youthful Dick who hosted American Bandstand, Pyramid, Bloopers, and a ton of other memorable shows, is gone forever. I really do hope Dick works some more and comes back next year sounding better than he did this year. I'm sure he will. But it won't be the same.

WTAE Pittsburgh captured some other reactions:

As the Washington Post reported, some saw it as "courageous" while others thought it was "morbid."

Many people have said they were uncomfortable listening to Clark speak in public for the first time since his stroke in late 2004....

[T]he head of the National Stroke Association said Clark's appearance was an inspiration for stroke victims everywhere.

He told the New York Times that Clark did "a marvelous job representing stroke survivors and their hope for recovery."

Alex Cukan delved into issues regarding television presentation:

Clark isn't the first person to appear on television after suffering a stroke, but he is in a minority that can be counted on one hand. Ellen Corby appeared as Esther "Grandma" Walton in the TV series The Waltons before and after she suffered a stroke in 1977. Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal and Ben Vereen recovered and returned to their profession following a stroke. But a stroke survivor on TV is rare....

It seems that many feel the 76-year-old Clark committed the ultimate TV crime -- he looked old, because let's face it, he is old....

The fact that Clark recovered from a stroke, can communicate and go on network television should have been acclaimed as a stunning achievement -- because that's what it was. Being able to communicate was a big deal and Clark, knowing he wasn't perfect, was courageous to make the effort when he could have sat home eating popcorn.

We don't see many disabled people on TV, even though there are more than 34 million U.S. adults limited in activity due to a chronic health condition. We hardly ever see a grandpa or grandma anymore, and it's been a long time since we had a character like Ironsides solve crimes while in a wheelchair. That's why it was a classy moment for ABC, at a time when network TV is not known for classy moments...

That's what it comes down to -- the disabled make some feel sad and uncomfortable. I suggest we get over it and start treating people, no matter how imperfect, with dignity and respect -- because 70 million baby boomers are only going to get older.

It's ironic that some criticize Clark for slurred speech on a night that has been traditionally associated with an overindulgence of alcohol....

In 1976 I covered the campaign of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who spoke at a rally and was clearly drunk, and yet there was no murmuring in the crowd or no whispering that he might have had a few too many. Everyone in the crowd and the media seemed to ignore that he could hardly stand or walk without assistance. They treated him like the senator he became; in fact, no one seemed uncomfortable.

Isn't it interesting that people can ignore slurred speech and unsteady movement -- if they want to?

[OE 1/6/2006: Did God strike Dick Clark down for promoting dancing? Perhaps.]

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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