NEW YORK – There was more to celebrate than the ball dropping in Times Square for Dick Clark — the personality who's been ringing in the New Year for decades made his first television appearance since a stroke in late 2004.
Clark, sitting behind a desk with the street scene in the background, sounded hoarse and occasionally was hard to understand, but he said, "I wouldn't have missed this for the world."
"Last year I had a stroke," he explained. "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."
After his Dec. 6, 2004, stroke, Clark had to sit out "New Year's Rockin' Eve" last year for the first time since starting it in 1972. Regis Philbin was his emergency sub.
Clark, 76, declined interviews and television appearances as he rehabilitated, and his spokesman said the former "American Bandstand" host viewed New Year's as his personal coming-out party. Tabloid pictures of Clark using a cane or wheelchair led to questions about whether he was up to it.
He remained seated during "New Year's Rockin' Eve," his right hand resting on the desk and his left arm by his side. Clark counted down the seconds until the ball dropped. He stayed at his desk past 1 a.m. as the crowds thinned out.
"I've had a wonderful time tonight," he said. "There's nothing like being in Times Square on New Year's Eve and believe me, this is one night I will never, ever forget."
With increased competition, it sometimes seemed as if Times Square was a giant television studio.
Philbin was back, this time for Fox. Carson Daly was host of an NBC party. News anchor Anderson Cooper was amid revelers for CNN, and Stuart Scott was on ESPN2. Kanye West was the featured guest at MTV's soiree.
But with Mariah Carey crooning for Clark, "New Year's Rockin' Eve" figured to be the dominant TV party of the night.
ABC and Clark's production company this year made plans to keep the show alive when Clark can no longer do it, signing "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest as his successor.
Seacrest opened "New Year's Rockin' Eve" with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and introduced Clark.