DICK CLARK, TV EMPEROR OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL AND ICON OF NEW YEAR’S EVE
Dick Clark on “American Bandstand” in 1957. He began hosting what was then a local show after the regular host was fired. More Photos »
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: April 18, 2012
Dick Clark, the perpetually youthful-looking television host whose long-running daytime song-and-dance fest, “American Bandstand,” did as much as anyone or anything to advance the influence of teenagers and rock ’n’ roll on American culture, died on Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 82.
A spokesman, Paul Shefrin, said Mr. Clark had a heart attack at Saint John’s Health Center on Wednesday morning after entering the hospital the night before for an outpatient procedure.
Mr. Clark had a stroke in December 2004, shortly before he was to appear on the annual televised New Year’s Eve party he had produced every year since 1972, and hosted for most of that time. He returned a year later, and although he spoke haltingly, he continued to make brief appearances on the show, including the one this past New Year’s Eve.
With the boyish good looks of a bound-for-success junior executive and a ubiquitous on-camera presence, Mr. Clark was among the most recognizable faces in the world, even if what he was most famous for — spinning records and jabbering with teenagers — was on the insubstantial side. In addition to “American Bandstand” and “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” he hosted innumerable awards shows, comedy specials, series based on TV outtakes and the game show “$10,000 Pyramid” (which lasted long enough to see the stakes ratcheted up to $100,000). He also made guest appearances on dramatic and comedy series, usually playing himself.
But he was as much a businessman as a television personality. “I get enormous pleasure and excitement sitting in on conferences with accountants, tax experts and lawyers,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1961. He was especially deft at packaging entertainment products for television.
Starting in the 1960s, Mr. Clark built an entertainment empire on the shoulders of “Bandstand,” producing other music shows like “Where the Action Is” and “It’s Happening.” He eventually expanded into game shows, awards shows, comedy specials and series, talk shows, children’s programming, reality programming, and movies. His umbrella company, Dick Clark Productions, has produced thousands of hours of television; it also has a licensing arm and has owned or operated restaurants and theaters like the Dick Clark American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Mo.
But none of it would have been possible without “American Bandstand,” a show that earned immediate popularity, had remarkable longevity and became a cultural touchstone for the baby-boomer generation. It helped give rise to the Top 40 radio format and helped make rock ’n’ roll a palatable product for visual media — not just television but also the movies. It was influential enough that ABC broadcast a 40th-anniversary special in 1992, three years after the show went off the air, and a 50th-anniversary special 10 years later. Mr. Clark, who had long since been popularly known as “the world’s oldest teenager,” was the host of both, of course.
“American Bandstand” was broadcast nationally, originally from Philadelphia, from 1957 to 1989, and the list of well-known performers who were seen on it, many of them lip-syncing their recently recorded hits, spanned generations: from Ritchie Valens to Luther Vandross; from the Monkees to Madonna; from Little Anthony and the Imperials to Los Lobos; from Dusty Springfield to Buffalo Springfield to Rick Springfield. Mr. Clark was around for it all.
“It meant everything to do Dick’s show,” Paul Anka said in telephone interview on Wednesday. “This was a time when there was no youth culture — he created it. And the impact of the show on people was enormous. You knew that once you went down to Philadelphia to see Dick and you went on the show, your song went from nowhere to the Top 10.”
“American Bandstand’s” influence waned somewhat after it changed from a weekday to a weekly format, appearing on Saturday afternoons, in 1963 and moved its base of operations to Los Angeles the next year. And as the psychedelic era took hold in the late 1960s and rock ’n’ roll fragmented into subgenres, the show could no longer command a central role on the pop music scene.
Indeed, the show was criticized for sanitizing rock ’n’ roll, taking the edge off a sexualized and rebellious music. But it was also, in important ways, on the leading edge of the culture. Mr. Clark and his producer, Tony Mammarella, began integrating the dance floor on “American Bandstand” early on; much of the music, after all, was being made by black performers.
“I can remember, a vivid recollection, the first time ever in my life I talked to a black teenager on national television; it was in what we called the rate-a-record portion of ‘Bandstand,’ ” Mr. Clark recalled. “It was the first time in a hundred years I got sweaty palms.”
He was fearful, he said, of a backlash from Southern television affiliates, but that didn’t happen. From that day on, he said, more blacks began appearing on the show. And as time went on, the show’s willingness to bridge a racial divide that went almost entirely unacknowledged by network programming was starkly apparent, “providing American television broadcasting with the most visible ongoing image of ethnic diversity until the 1970s,” according to an essay about the program on the Web site of the Chicago-based Museum of Broadcast Communications.
“We didn’t do it because we were do-gooders, or liberals,” Mr. Clark said. “It was just a thing we thought we ought to do. It was naïve.”
The right man at the right time, Mr. Clark was a radio personality in Philadelphia in 1956 when he stepped into the role of host of what was then a local television show called “Bandstand” after the regular host was fired. By the following October, the show was being broadcast on ABC nationwide with a new name, “American Bandstand,” and for the next several years it was seen every weekday afternoon by as many as 20 million viewers, most of them not yet out of high school, eager to watch a few dozen of their peers dance chastely to the latest recordings of pop hits, showing off new steps like the twist, the pony and the Watusi, and rating the new records in brief interviews.
“It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it” became a national catchphrase.
Handsome and glib, Dick Clark was their music-savvy older brother, and from that position of authority he presided over a grass-roots revolution in American culture in the late 1950s and early ’60s. “American Bandstand” was the first show to make use of the new technology, television, to spread the gospel of rock ’n’ roll. In its early years it introduced a national audience to teen idols like Fabian and Connie Francis, first-generation rockers like Bill Haley and Jerry Lee Lewis, and singing groups like the Everly Brothers. Even more, it helped persuade broadcasters and advertisers of the power of teenagers to steer popular taste.
“At that moment in time, the world realized that kids might rule the world,” Mr. Clark said. “They had their own music, their own fashion, their own money.”
By early 1958, “American Bandstand” was so big a hit that network executives installed a new show in a concert format in its Saturday night lineup, calling it “The Dick Clark Show.” In June, ABC sent it on the road to broadcast from a number of cities. In October, when “The Dick Clark Show” originated from Atlanta, both black and white teenagers were in the audience — amounting to one of the first racially integrated rock concerts — and with National Guard troops present, it weathered threats from the Ku Klux Klan. The nighttime show lasted only until 1960.
In spite of his success, Mr. Clark, who never hid his desire for wealth, had not been getting rich as a network employee. But he had been investing, shrewdly and voluminously, in the businesses that “American Bandstand” supported — talent management, music publishing, record distribution and merchandising, among others — and his bank account ballooned.
His finances were dealt a blow, and his clean-cut image was tarnished, however, when Congress convened hearings into payola, the record company practice of bribing disc jockeys to play their records on the air. In late 1959, with the hearings pending, ABC insisted that Mr. Clark divest himself of all his record-related businesses, which he did. He was called to testify before the House Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight in April 1960, and though he denied ever taking money to play records, he acknowledged a number of actions that exposed what many in Congress considered a too-cozy relationship between the music industry and D.J.s, Mr. Clark in particular.
For an investment of $125 in one record company, for example, Mr. Clark received $31,700 in salary and stock profits over two years. He admitted that some songs and records may have been given to his publishing and distribution companies because of his affiliation with “American Bandstand.” He also acknowledged accepting a ring and a fur stole from a record manufacturer.
Mr. Clark, who was never charged with a crime, said that having to comply with the network’s divestiture request cost him millions.
“I never took any money to play records,” Mr. Clark said in his 1999 Archive of American Television interview. “I made money other ways. Horizontally, vertically, every which way you can think of, I made money from that show.”
Over half a century, Mr. Clark made millions as a producer or executive producer, shepherding projects onto the airwaves that even he acknowledged were more diverting than ennobling: awards shows like the Golden Globes, the Academy of Country Music Awards and the American Music Awards; omnibus shows like “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes,” featuring collections of clips; and television-movie biographies and dramas that targeted devotees of camp, kitsch or B-list celebrities.
He excelled in signing up top acts for his shows, and had to be especially creative on his New Year’s Eve show. Top acts often had lucrative bookings that night, so Mr. Clark worked around that by taping the dance party portion of the show at a Los Angeles studio in August.
“You would go out there and see all these people in their New Year’s Eve outfits getting a smoke outside in 100-degree heat,” said Ted Harbert, then an ABC program executive and now chairman of NBC Broadcasting. “That’s how he got the stars to turn up on a New Year’s Eve show. He taped them in August. It was genius.”
Mr. Clark wasn’t high-minded about his work. “I’ve always dealt with light, frivolous things that didn’t really count; I’m not ashamed of that,” he said during a 1999 interview for the Archive of American Television. “There’s no redeeming cultural value whatsoever to ‘Bloopers,’ but it’s been on for 20 years.” He added: “It’s a piece of fluff. I’ve been a fluffmeister for a long time.”
Richard Wagstaff Clark was born on Nov. 30, 1929, in Bronxville, N.Y., and grew up nearby in Mount Vernon, the second son of Richard A. and Julia Clark. His father was a salesman who commuted to New York City until he was hired to manage a radio station in Utica, N.Y. The older brother, Bradley, was killed in World War II, and young Dick, who had greatly admired “Brad,” a high school athlete, was devastated and depressed afterward, his father once said in an interview.
An Early Love of Radio
As a boy Dick listened often to the radio, and at 13 he went to see a live radio broadcast starring Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore. From then on, he wanted to be in broadcasting. His first job, at 17, was in the mailroom of his father’s station. He often said he learned the most important lesson of his career from listening to Arthur Godfrey.
“I emulated him,” Mr. Clark said. “I loved him, I adored him, because he had the ability to communicate to one person who was listening or watching. Most people would say, in a stentorian voice, ‘Good evening, everyone.’ Everyone? Godfrey knew there was only one person listening at a time.”
Mr. Clark studied business administration at Syracuse University, where he was a disc jockey on the student radio station. After graduating he worked briefly as an announcer for his father’s station before getting a job in television, at WKTV in Utica, as a news announcer.
In 1952 WFIL in Philadelphia gave him his own radio show, “Dick Clark’s Caravan of Music,” an easy-listening afternoon program. A few months later, the station’s television affiliate began an afternoon show called “Bandstand,” with Bob Horn and Lee Stewart. At first it showed films of musical performances for studio audiences, Mr. Clark recalled, but it evolved into a dance show when teenagers, bored with the films, started dancing to the music. As the show grew in popularity, the station changed the name of Mr. Clark’s radio show to “Bandstand” as well, even though his playlist remained uncontroversial fare for a relatively small middle-aged afternoon audience.
It was in the summer of 1956 that Mr. Horn, by then the show’s sole host, was fired and the station turned to young Dick Clark.
“I was 26 years old, looked the part, knew the music, was very comfortable on television,” Mr. Clark recalled. “ ‘They said, ‘Do you want it?’ And I said, ‘Oh, man, do I want it!’ ”
Mr. Clark’s first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Kari Wigton; three children, Richard, Duane and Cindy; and three grandchildren.
He won five Emmy Awards, including a Daytime Emmy lifetime achievement award in 1994, and in 1993 was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He owed his success, he said, to knowing the mind of the broad audience.
“My greatest asset in life,” he said, “was I never lost touch with hot dogs, hamburgers, going to the fair and hanging out at the mall.”
Bill Carter and Ben Sisario contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 21, 2012
An obituary on Thursday about the television host and producer Dick Clark, using information from a spokesman, misstated the number of grandchildren who survive him. It is three, not two. The obituary also misstated Mr. Clark’s role in the first New Year’s Eve telecast he produced. He was the producer only, not the producer and host. And it misstated, in some editions, the year of that telecast. It was 1972, not 1973.
JONATHAN FRID, GHOULISH ‘DARK SHADOWS’ STAR
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: April 20, 2012
Jonathan Frid, a Shakespearean actor who found unexpected — and by his own account unwanted — celebrity as the vampire Barnabas Collins on the sanguinary soap opera “Dark Shadows,” died last Friday, April 13, in Hamilton, Ontario. He was 87.
He died from complications of a fall, said Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played several characters on the show. Mr. Frid, who lived in Ancaster, Ontario, leaves no immediate survivors.
Mr. Frid, along with several castmates, makes a cameo appearance in Tim Burton’s feature film “Dark Shadows,” to be released on May 11. Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas.
Though the befanged Mr. Frid was the acknowledged public face of “Dark Shadows” — his likeness was on comic books, board games, trading cards and many other artifacts — Barnabas did not make his first appearance until more than 200 episodes into the run. The character was conceived as a short-term addition to the cast, and early on the threat of the stake loomed large.
Broadcast on weekday afternoons on ABC, “Dark Shadows” began in 1966 as a conventional soap opera (with Gothic overtones), centering on the Collins family and their creaky manse in Maine.
The next year, with ratings slipping, the show’s executive producer, Dan Curtis, chose to inject an element of the supernatural. Enter Barnabas, a brooding, lovelorn, eternally 175-year-old representative of the undead. Today TV vampires are legion, but such a character was an unusual contrivance then.
The ratings shot up, and not only among the traditional soap-opera demographic of stay-at-home women. With its breathtakingly low-rent production values and equally breathtakingly purple dialogue, “Dark Shadows” induced a generation of high school and college students to cut class to revel in its unintended high camp. The producers shelved the stake.
Swirling cape, haunted eyes and fierce eyebrows notwithstanding, Barnabas, as portrayed by Mr. Frid, was no regulation-issue vampire. An 18th-century man — he had been entombed in the Collins family crypt — he struggled to comes to terms with the 20th-century world.
He was a vulnerable vampire, who pined for his lost love, Josette. (She had leaped to her death in 1795.) He was racked with guilt over his thirst for blood, and Mr. Frid played him as a man in the grip of a compulsion he devoutly wished to shake.
Mr. Frid starred in almost 600 episodes, from April 18, 1967, to April 2, 1971, when the show went off the air. (It remains perennially undead on DVD.)
Mr. Frid received nearly 6,000 fan letters a week. “I wish you’d bite ME on the neck,” read one, from a woman in Illinois.
Others contained snapshots of the letter-writers’ necks — and everything on down — laid bare.
All this, Mr. Frid said in 1968, was exquisitely ironic in that “the other vampires we’ve had on the show were much more voluptuous biters than I am.”
It was also an exquisitely unimagined career path for a stage actor trained at the Yale School of Drama and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Mr. Frid, as he made plain in interviews, was as conflicted about his calling as Barnabas was about his own.
The son of a prosperous construction executive, John Herbert Frid was born in Hamilton on Dec. 2, 1924; he changed his given name to Jonathan early in his stage career.
After service in the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II, Mr. Frid received a bachelor’s degree from McMaster University in Hamilton; he later moved to London, where he studied at the Royal Academy and appeared in repertory theater. In 1957, he earned a master’s degree in directing from Yale.
Mr. Frid spent his early career acting in North American regional theater, appearing at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts and the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn. On Broadway, he played Richard Scroop, Archbishop of York, in “Henry IV, Part 2” in 1960.
Long after “Dark Shadows” ended, Barnabas remained an albatross. Mr. Frid reprised the role in the 1970 feature film “House of Dark Shadows”; the few other screen roles that came his way also tended toward the ghoulish. He starred opposite Shelley Winters in the 1973 TV movie “The Devil’s Daughter,” about Satanism; the next year he played a horror writer in “Seizure,” Oliver Stone’s first feature.
Returning to the stage, Mr. Frid played Jonathan Brewster — a role originated by Boris Karloff — in a 1986 Broadway revival of the macabre comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
As critical as he was of “Dark Shadows,” Mr. Frid was equally critical of his performance in it.
“I’d get this long-lost look on my face,” he told The Hamilton Spectator in 2000. “ ‘Where is my love? Where is my love?,’ it seemed to say. Actually, it was me thinking: ‘Where the hell is the teleprompter? And what’s my next line?’ ”
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.
LEVON HELM, DRUMMER AND GRAVEL-THROATED SINGER FOR THE BAND
From left, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson of the Band in Woodstock, N.Y. More Photos »
By JON PARELES
Published: April 19, 2012
His death, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, was from complications of cancer, a spokeswoman for Vanguard Records said. He had recorded several albums for the label.
In Mr. Helm’s drumming, muscle, swing, economy and finesse were inseparably merged. His voice held the bluesy, weathered and resilient essence of his Arkansas upbringing in the Mississippi Delta.
Mr. Helm was the American linchpin of the otherwise Canadian group that became Bob Dylan’s backup band and then the Band. Its own songs, largely written by the Band’s guitarist, Jaime Robbie Robertson, and pianist, Richard Manuel, spring from roadhouse, church, backwoods, river and farm; they are rock-ribbed with history and tradition yet hauntingly surreal.
After the Band broke up in 1976, Mr. Helm continued to perform at every opportunity, working with a partly reunited Band and leading his own groups. He also acted in films, notably “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980). In the 2000s he became a roots-music patriarch, turning his barn in Woodstock — which had been a recording studio since 1975 — into the home of down-home, eclectic concerts called Midnight Rambles, which led to tours and Grammy-winning albums.
Mr. Helm gave his drums a muffled, bottom-heavy sound that placed them in the foundation of the arrangements, and his tom-toms were tuned so that their pitch would bend downward as the tone faded. Mr. Helm didn’t call attention to himself. Three bass-drum thumps at the start of one of the Band’s anthems, “The Weight,” were all that he needed to establish the song’s gravity.
His playing served the song. In “The Shape I’m In,” he juxtaposed Memphis soul, New Orleans rumba and military tattoo. But while it was tersely responsive to the music, the drumming also had an improvisational feel.
In the Band, lead vocals changed from song to song and sometimes within songs, and harmonies were elaborately communal. But particularly when lyrics turned to myths and tall tales of the American South — like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Ophelia” and “Rag Mama Rag” — the lead went to Mr. Helm, with his Arkansas twang and a voice that could sound desperate, ornery and amused at the same time.
In a 1984 interview with Modern Drummer magazine, Mr. Helm described the “right ingredients” for his work in music and film as “life and breath, heart and soul.”
Mark Lavon Helm was born on May 26, 1940, in Elaine, Ark., the son of a cotton farmer with land near Turkey Scratch, Ark. In his 1993 autobiography, “This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band,“ written with Stephen Davis, Mr. Helm said he was part Chickasaw Indian through his paternal grandmother. He grew up hearing live bluegrass, Delta blues, country and the beginnings of rock ’n’ roll; Memphis was just across the river.
His father gave him a guitar when he was 9, and he soon started performing: in a duo with his sister Linda and in a high school rock ‘n’ roll band, the Jungle Bush Beaters. He also played drums in the Marvell High School band.
Mr. Helm was in 11th grade when the Arkansas-born rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins hired him as a drummer. He traveled with Mr. Hawkins to Canada, where the shows paid better, and Mr. Hawkins settled there and formed a band. Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks played six nights a week in Ontario and had a number of hit singles, like “Mary Lou.” They performed on Dick Clark’s TV show “American Bandstand.”
By 1961 Mr. Hawkins had assembled the lineup that would become the Band: Mr. Helm, Mr. Robertson, Mr. Manuel, Rick Danko on bass and Garth Hudson on organ. “He knew what musicians had the fire,” Mr. Helm said of Mr. Hawkins. The others had trouble pronouncing Lavon, so Mr. Helm began calling himself Levon.
In 1963, weary of Mr. Hawkins’s discipline, the five Hawks started their own bar-band career as Levon and the Hawks. The blues singer John Hammond Jr. heard them in Toronto and brought Mr. Robertson, Mr. Hudson and Mr. Helm into the studio in 1964 to back him on the album “So Many Roads.”
Bob Dylan had famously brought an electric band to the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, and after its members had made other commitments, he hired Mr. Robertson and Mr. Helm for a summer tour.
At their first rehearsals, Mr. Helm recalled, his reaction to Mr. Dylan was, “I couldn’t believe how many words this guy had in his music, or how he remembered them all.” Before playing their first show, at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, Mr. Dylan told the band, “Just keep playing, no matter how weird it gets.”
They polarized the audience — those wanting to hear only Dylan’s folk music booed — and while a subsequent concert at the Hollywood Bowl was better received, another band member, the keyboardist Al Kooper, chose to leave. At that point Mr. Helm told Albert Grossman, Mr. Dylan’s manager, “Take us all, or don’t take anybody.” The Hawks became Mr. Dylan’s band.
They backed Mr. Dylan on a studio single, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?,” and toured with him through the fall, still getting booed. Mr. Helm quit the band late in 1965. “I wasn’t made to be booed,“ he wrote.
Mr. Dylan’s motorcycle accident in 1966 ended his touring with the Hawks. While he recuperated in Woodstock the Hawks, who were on retainer, rented a big pink house in a neighboring town, West Saugerties, for $125 a month. For most of 1967 the Hawks, with Mr. Manuel playing drums, worked five days a week on music: writing songs with and without Mr. Dylan, playing them at his home and at the house they called Big Pink, and recording them on a two-track tape recorder in the basement. Songs sent to Mr. Dylan’s publisher were soon bootlegged.
In the winter of 1967, the band summoned Mr. Helm to rejoin them. With Mr. Manuel on drums, Mr. Helm picked up mandolin, though he would soon return to drums.
Mr. Grossman got the Hawks their own recording contract with Capitol in February 1968, initially as the Crackers, a name Capitol didn’t like. There was no band name on the LP label or front cover of “Music From Big Pink,” the group’s debut album, which simply had a painting by Mr. Dylan as its cover. (The songs had been written at Big Pink but recorded in professional studios.) The LP label listed all the musicians’ names, while inside the double-fold cover the musicians were listed under the words “The Band.” “The name of the group is just our Christian names,” Mr. Robertson insisted in an interview. But the band became the Band.
Released on July 1, 1968, a year after the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Music From Big Pink” was “rebelling against the rebellion,” Mr. Helm wrote. There were no elaborate studio confections, no psychedelic jams, no gimmicks; the music was stately and homespun, with a deliberately old-time tone behind the enigmatic lyrics. Sales were modest, but the album’s influence was huge, leading musicians like Eric Clapton and the Grateful Dead back toward concision. The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
Adding to its mystique, the Band didn’t tour until 1969 because Mr. Danko broke his neck in an auto accident. It made its concert debut as the Band at Winterland in San Francisco in April 1969.
By then, the Band was well into recording its second album, simply titled “The Band,” which would include the group’s only Top 30 single, “Up on Cripple Creek.” The album was universally hailed, and the Band played a summer of huge pop festivals, backing Mr. Dylan at the Isle of Wight and performing in August at Woodstock. In 1970, Mr. Helm and the songwriter Libby Titus had a daughter, Amy Helm, now a member of the band Ollabelle; she survives him, along with his wife since 1981, the former Sandra Dodd, and two grandchildren.
The Band would never match its two initial masterpieces. By the time the group started recording its 1970 album, “Stage Fright,” members were drinking heavily and using heroin, and there were disputes over songwriting credits and publishing royalties, of which Mr. Robertson had by far the greatest share. The collaborative spirit of the first two albums was disappearing. But the Band’s career had momentum; it produced several more studio albums, toured internationally, and a live album, “Rock of Ages,” reached the Top 10 in 1972. In 1973, the Band, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers were the triple bill for the Watkins Glen festival, which drew 600,000 people to upstate New York — larger than Woodstock. In 1974, the Band made an album with Mr. Dylan, “Planet Waves,” and toured with him. “The Basement Tapes,” a collection of songs with and without Mr. Dylan from the Big Pink era, was released in 1975.
In September 1976, Mr. Robertson decided to declare the end of the Band’s touring career with a grand finale: “The Last Waltz,” an all-star concert at Winterland on Thanksgiving 1976. Recorded for an album, it was also filmed by Martin Scorsese and released under the same title. Mr. Helm hated the film, believing that it glorified Mr. Robertson and slighted the rest of the Band. After “The Last Waltz,” the original Band lineup returned to the studio for one last album, the desultory “Islands,” which completed its Capitol contract.
Mr. Helm had already embarked on a solo career. He also branched out into acting, playing Loretta Lynn’s father in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” as well as roles in “The Right Stuff” and in a television movie with Jane Fonda, “The Dollmaker.”
But Mr. Helm wanted above all to be a working musician. In the early 1980s he toured with his fellow Band members, minus Mr. Robertson. They were on the road in 1986 when Mr. Manuel committed suicide at 42. But Mr. Helm, Mr. Danko and Mr. Hudson continued to work together as the Band, with additional musicians and songwriters, releasing three albums during the 1990s. Mr. Danko died in 1999 at 55. Meanwhile, Mr. Helm’s barn studio became a hub for musicians from Woodstock and beyond, often with Mr. Helm and Mr. Hudson sitting in. Mr. Helm, a heavy smoker, contracted throat cancer in the late 1990s, and for months he could not speak above a whisper. A tumor was removed from his vocal cords, and he underwent 28 radiation treatments. Medical bills threatened him with the loss of his home. Partly to raise money, he began hosting the Midnight Rambles at his barn in 2004. More house parties than concerts, they featured unannounced guest stars and a band of his own that delved into Americana as well as the Band catalog.
His voice strengthened, and the core of his Midnight Ramble bands became a touring and recording group; it performed in 2009 at the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival on its site in Bethel, N.Y., although Mr. Helm was unable to sing that night. Mr. Helm’s 2007 and 2009 studio albums, “Dirt Farmer” and “Electric Dirt,” won Grammy Awards, as did his 2011 “Ramble at the Ryman,” recorded live in Nashville and broadcast on PBS.
Nearly to the end, Mr. Helm spent his life on the bandstand. “If it doesn’t come from your heart,” he wrote, “music just doesn’t work.”