Written By: Ben Cosgrove

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 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.

Buy LIFE Books’ Dick Clark and the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Dick Clark on his TV show the "American Bandstand" in 1958.

Dick Clark on his TV show the “American Bandstand” in 1958.

Paul Schutzer Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Dick Clark poses for a portrait with his wife Barbara and their son, Richard Clark, Jr., on May 13, 1958, in Philadelphia.

Dick Clark poses for a portrait with his wife Barbara and their son, Richard Clark, Jr., on May 13, 1958, in Philadelphia.

Michael Ochs Archives

Dick Clark (at podium) during an airing of American Bandstand in 1969.

Dick Clark (at podium) during an airing of American Bandstand in 1969.

ABC Photo Archives

Dick Clark prior to his New Year's Rockin' Eve broadcast in 1983-84.

Dick Clark prior to his New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast in 1983-84.

ABC Photo Archives

Little Richard with Dick Clark on American Bandstand in 1964.

Little Richard with Dick Clark on American Bandstand in 1964.

American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

Dick Clark surrounded by his grandmother's complete collection of LIFE magazines, which he inherited on her death. On his lap is the 1936 premier issue.

ick Clark surrounded by his grandmother’s complete collection of LIFE magazines, which he inherited on her death. On his lap is the 1936 premier issue.

Brian Lanker

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