Ron Onesti: ‘American Bandstand,’ a sock hop in the sky

BACKSTAGE with the Arcada Theatre’s Ron Onesti

It’s hard to believe that rock ’n’ roll icon Dick Clark would have been 95 this year. Although he passed away in April 2012, his memory resonates with so many of us rock ’n’ roll fans to this day. When I think of him, a few questions come to mind: How many lives has American rock ’n’ roll touched? How many careers did Dick Clark launch or foster? How many of the millions of watchers of the 7,500-plus shows he produced had moments of happiness and memories that lasted a lifetime because of those shows?

ANSWER: Immeasurable!

I never met the man. I never actually pursued it. And it’s ironic, because all the tributes and testimonials I have been reading were by people I have known for years! Legends like Little Anthony, Neil Sedaka, Danny & The Juniors, Frankie Avalon, Frankie Valli, Tom Dreesen, Mary Wilson, Pat Boone, James Darren, Nancy Sinatra … the list goes on and on. All good friends of ours, and all who attribute their careers to Dick Clark.

I didn’t even approach my good buddy, the late Ed McMahon and former television partner of Dick’s, whose gift of a video of him saying, “And now, heeeeeeeere’s Ronnie” — in the same vein as Johnny Carson is one of my most treasured possessions. Man, I should have asked him for the introduction.

At each of our shows, I always try to facilitate fans’ meet-and-greet with the stars. After they nervously shake their hand, take a photo and get an autograph, they usually thank me for helping them with that “bucket list” item of meeting their idol.

Again, a bit of irony, as DC was on MY bucket list. He epitomized what I wanted to be when I grew up — a well respected and widely loved conduit between music and the masses. Not an actual performer, yet an entertainer in his own right. He was somebody who brought joy to millions via song, dance and a famous smile.

I think I never really pursued the intro because of the international familiarity with his audience he had. With so many single degrees of separation between us, coupled with the too-many-to-count times I saw him on one show or another, it was as if he was by my house for pasta and meatballs the night before.

With all those fabulous rock ’n’ roll moments we all witnessed over the years, I think my favorite Dick Clark moment was his last “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” special. Still handsome with boyish good looks, he struggled with his speech after a terrible stroke. He kept his dignity though, and also kept his tradition of kissing his beloved wife at midnight. Although the kiss was physically awkward for him, he did it with a passion I have rarely seen others display. It showed a love that not even a massive stroke could stifle.

As more and more of music’s pioneers pass on, I can’t help but think of that Righteous Brothers classic, “Rock ’n Roll Heaven” as Bill Medley sang at our Arcada Theatre last year, “If there’s a rock ’n’ roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” The song refers to all those music masters who have passed on so young. Jimi Hendrix, Bobby Darin Janis Joplin and many more. But with all those young rock stars up there, Dick Clark is probably keeping them all in line, on some cloud with a bunch of musical souls dancing around them, and still trying to unscramble song titles on a heavenly board (if you were around then you will know what I am referencing).

It seems the legacy of music legends and icons gets grander upon their deaths. Their music lives on for generations. Their images get plastered on coffee mugs and mouse pads and refrigerator magnets. But guys like Dick Clark usually don’t have that kind of staying power. My 15-year-old daughter will grow up and know who Sinatra, Elvis and Michael were, but Dick Clark? I will do my best to tell her about Dick Clark and “American Bandstand,” Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and Soul Train’s Don Cornelius.

More importantly, I’ll tell her to be aggressive in pursuing her “bucket list” because that “bucket” empties quicker than you can ever realize.

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp., the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles and the Des Plaines Theatre. Celebrity questions and comments? Email

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