Casey Kasem

Kemal Amin "Casey" Kasem (April 27, 1932 – June 15, 2014) was an American disc jockey, music historian, radio personality, actor and voice actor. He was notable for being the host of several music radio countdown programs, notably American Top 40 from 1970 until his retirement in 2009 and being the first actor to voice Norville "Shaggy" Rogers in the Scooby-Doo franchise from 1969 to 1997, and again from 2002 until 2009.

Kasem co-founded the American Top 40 franchise in 1970, hosting it from its inception to 1988, and again from 1998 to 2004. Between January 1989 and early 1998, he was the host of Casey's Top 40, Casey's Hot 20 and Casey's Countdown. From 1998 to 2009, Kasem also hosted two adult contemporary spinoffs of American Top 40: American Top 20 and American Top 10. He helped found the American Video Awards in 1983 and continued to co-produce and host it until its final show in 1987.

In addition to his radio shows, Kasem provided many commercial voiceovers, performed many voices for children's television (such as Sesame Street and the Transformers cartoon series), was "the voice of NBC" and helped with the annual Jerry Lewis telethon.

Early life

Kasem was born in Detroit, Michigan on April 27, 1932, to Lebanese Druze immigrants, Helen and Amin Kasem, who were grocers. He was named after Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a man Kasem said his father respected. Kasem's parents did not allow their children to speak Arabic and insisted that they assimilate into American life.

In the 1940s, "Make Believe Ballroom" reportedly inspired Kasem to follow a career in radio and later host a national radio hits countdown show. Kasem received his first experience in radio covering sports at Northwestern High School in Detroit. He then attended Wayne State University, where he voiced children on radio programs such as The Lone Ranger and Challenge of the Yukon. In 1952, Kasem was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Korea. There, he worked as a DJ/announcer on the Armed Forces Radio Korea Network.


Early career

After the war, Kasem began his professional broadcasting career in Flint, Michigan. From there, he spent time in Detroit as a disc jockey for radio station WJBK-AM (and doing such shows as The Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon), WBNY in Buffalo, New York and a station in Cleveland before moving to California. At KYA in San Francisco, the general manager suggested that he tone down his delivery and talk about the records instead. At KEWB in Oakland, California, Kasem was both the music director and an on-air personality. He said he was inspired by a Who's Who in Pop Music, 1962 magazine that he found in the trash. He created a show that mixed in biographical tidbits about the artists and songs he played, and attracted the attention of Bill Gavin, who tried to recruit him as a partner. After Kasem joined KRLA in Los Angeles in 1963, his career began to blossom and he championed the R&B music of East L.A.

Kasem earned roles in a number of low-budget movies and acted in radio dramas. While hosting "dance hops" on local television, he attracted the attention of Dick Clark, who hired him as co-host of a daily teenage music show called Shebang, starting in 1964. Kasem had roles on network TV series that included Hawaii Five-O and Ironside. In 1967, he appeared on The Dating Game, and played the role of "Mouth" in the motorcycle gang film The Glory Stompers. In 1969, he played the role of Knife in the film Wild Wheels, and had a small role in another biker movie, The Cycle Savages, starring Bruce Dern and Melody Patterson.

Kasem's voice was the key to his career. At the end of the 1960s, he began working as a voice actor. In 1969, he started one of his most famous roles, the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! He also voiced the drummer Groove from The Cattanooga Cats that year. In 1964 during the Beatlemania craze, Kasem had a minor hit single called "Letter from Elaina", a spoken-word recording that told the story of a girl who met George Harrison after a San Francisco Beatles concert.

1970–1988: American Top 40

On July 4, 1970, Kasem, along with Don Bustany, Tom Rounds, and Ron Jacobs, launched the weekly radio program American Top 40 (AT40). At the time, top 40 radio was on the decline as DJs preferred to play album-oriented progressive rock. Loosely based on the TV program Your Hit Parade, the show counted down from #40 to #1 based on the Billboard Hot 100 weekly chart. But the show was not just about the countdown: Kasem mixed in biographical information and trivia about the artists, as well as flashbacks and "Long-Distance Dedication" segments in which he read letters from listeners wishing to dedicate songs to distant loved ones. Frequently, he mentioned a trivia fact about an unnamed singer before a commercial break, then provided the name of the singer after returning from the break. Kasem ended the program with his signature sign-off, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

The show debuted on seven stations but soon went nationwide. In October 1978, the show expanded from three hours to four. American Top 40 success spawned several imitators, including a weekly half-hour music video television show, America's Top 10, hosted by Kasem himself. "When we first went on the air, I thought we would be around for at least 20 years," he later remarked. "I knew the formula worked. I knew people tuned in to find out what the number 1 record was." Because of his great knowledge of music, Kasem became known as not just a disc jockey, but also a music historian.

In 1971, Kasem provided the character voice of Peter Cottontail in the Rankin/Bass production of Here Comes Peter Cottontail. In the same year, he appeared in the low-budget film The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, in what was probably his best-remembered acting role. From 1973 to 1985, Kasem voiced Robin for several Super Friends franchise shows. In 1980, he voiced Merry in The Return of the King. He also voiced Alexander Cabot III on Josie and the Pussycats and Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, and supplied a number of voices for Sesame Street.

In the late 1970s, Kasem portrayed an actor who imitated Columbo in the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries two-part episode "The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom." He portrayed a golf commentator in an episode of Charlie's Angels titled "Winning is for Losers", and appeared on Police Story, Quincy, M.E. and Switch. In 1977, Kasem was hired as the narrator for the ABC sitcom Soap, but quit after the pilot episode because of the show's controversial content. Rod Roddy took his place on the program. In 1984, Kasem made a cameo in Ghostbusters, reprising his role as the host of American Top 40. For a period in the late 1970s, he was the staff announcer for the NBC television network.

In 1983 Kasem helped found the American Video Awards, an annual music video award show taped for distribution to television, which he also hosted and co-produced. His goal for the award was to make it the "Oscars" of music videos. There were only five award shows. The final show aired in 1987.

1988–1998: Casey's Top 40

In 1988, Kasem left American Top 40 because of a contract dispute with ABC Radio Network. He signed a five-year, $15 million contract with Westwood One and started Casey's Top 40, which used a different chart, the Radio & Records Contemporary (CHR)/Pop radio airplay chart (also employed contemporaneously by Rick Dees Weekly Top 40). He also hosted two shorter versions of the show, Casey's Hot 20 and Casey's Countdown. During the late 1990s, Kasem hosted the Radio Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Kasem voiced Mark in Battle of the Planets and several Transformers characters: Bluestreak, Cliffjumper, Teletraan I and Dr. Arkeville. He left Transformers during the third season because he believed the show contained offensive caricatures of Arabs and Arab countries. In a 1990 article, he explained:From 1989 to 1998, Kasem hosted Nick at Nite's New Year's Eve countdown of the top reruns of the year. He also made cameo appearances on Saved by the Bell and ALF in the early 1990s. In 1997, Kasem quit his role as Shaggy in a dispute over a Burger King commercial, with Billy West and Scott Innes taking over the character in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

1998–2009: American Top 40 second run

The original American Top 40, hosted by Shadoe Stevens after Kasem's departure, was cancelled in 1995. Kasem regained the rights to the name in 1997, and the show was back on the air in 1998, on the AMFM Network (later acquired by Premiere Radio Networks).

At the end of 2003, Kasem announced he would be leaving AT40 once his contract expired the following month and would be replaced by Ryan Seacrest. He agreed to a new contract to continue hosting his weekly adult contemporary countdown shows in the interim, which at the time were both titled American Top 20. In 2005 Kasem renewed his deal with Premiere Radio Networks to continue hosting his shows, one of which had been reduced to ten songs and was retitled American Top 10 to reflect the change.

In April 2005, a television special called American Top 40 Live aired on the Fox network, hosted by Seacrest, with Kasem appearing on the show. In 2008, Kasem did the voice-over for WGN America's Out of Sight Retro Night. He was also the host of the short-lived American version of 100% during the 1998–99 season.

In June 2009, Premiere announced it would no longer produce Kasem's two remaining countdowns, ending their eleven-year relationship. Kasem, at 77, decided against finding another syndicator or replacement host, citing a desire to explore other avenues such as writing a memoir. He sent a press release during the last week of June announcing that he would retire from radio on the July 4 weekend, the 39th anniversary of the first countdown show.

Kasem also performed TV commercial voice-overs throughout his career, appearing in more than 100 commercials.

In 2002, Kasem reprised the role of Shaggy. In 2009, he retired from voice acting, with his final performance being the voice of Shaggy in Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword. He did voice Shaggy again for "The Official BBC Children in Need Medley", but went uncredited by his request. Although officially retired from acting, Kasem provided the voice of Colton Rogers, Shaggy's father, on a recurring basis for the 2010–2013 series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, again uncredited at his request.

As for his recognizable voice quality, "It's a natural quality of huskiness in the midrange of my voice that I call 'garbage,'" he stated to The New York Times. "It's not a clear-toned announcer's voice. It's more like the voice of the guy next door."

Personal life

Kasem was a dedicated vegan, supported animal rights and environmental causes, and was a critic of factory farming. He initially quit voicing Shaggy in the late 1990s when asked to voice Shaggy in a Burger King commercial, but returned in 2002 after negotiating to have Shaggy become a vegetarian.

Kasem was active in politics for years, supporting Lebanese-American and Arab-American causes, an interest triggered by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He wrote a brochure published by the Arab American Institute entitled "Arab-Americans: Making a Difference". He called for a fairer depiction of heroes and villains on behalf of all cultures in Disney's 1994 sequel to Aladdin called The Return of Jafar. In 1996, he was honored as "Man of the Year" by the American Druze Society. Kasem campaigned against the Gulf War, advocating non-military means of pressuring Saddam Hussein into withdrawing from Kuwait, was an advocate of Palestinian independence and arranged conflict-resolution workshops for Arab Americans and Jewish Americans.

A political liberal, Kasem narrated a campaign ad for George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign, hosted fundraisers for Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988, supported Ralph Nader for U.S. President in 2000, and supported progressive Democrat Dennis Kucinich in his 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns. Kasem supported a number of other progressive causes, including affordable housing and the rights of the homeless.

Kasem was married to Linda Myers from 1972 to 1979. They had three children: Mike, Julie, and Kerri Kasem.Kasem was married to actress Jean Thompson from 1980 until his death. They had one child, Liberty Jean Kasem.

In 1989, Kasem purchased a home built in 1954 and located at 138 North Mapleton Drive in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, previously owned by developer Abraham M. Lurie, as a birthday present for his wife, Jean. In 2013, Kasem and his wife put the home on the market for US$43 million.

Illness and death

In October 2013, Kerri Kasem said her father was suffering from Parkinson's disease, which a doctor had diagnosed in 2007; a few months later, she said he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, which is often difficult to differentiate from Parkinson's. His condition left him unable to speak during his final months.

As Kasem's health worsened in 2013, his wife Jean prevented any contact with her husband, particularly by his children from his first marriage. On October 1, Kerri, Mike, and Julie protested in front of the Kasem home, having not been allowed contact with their father for three months. Some of Kasem's longtime friends and colleagues, along with his brother Mouner, also joined the demonstration. The older Kasem children sought conservatorship over their father's care, with Julie and her husband Jamil Aboulhosn filing the papers; the court denied their petition in November.

Kasem was removed from a Santa Monica, California nursing home by his wife on May 7, 2014. On May 12, Kerri Kasem was granted temporary conservatorship over her father, despite her stepmother's objection. The court also ordered an investigation into Casey Kasem's whereabouts after his wife's attorney told the court that Casey was "no longer in the United States". He was found soon afterward in Washington state.

On June 6, 2014, Kasem was reported to be in critical but stable condition at a hospital in Washington state, receiving antibiotics for bedsores and treatment for high blood pressure. It was revealed that he had been bedridden for some time. A judge ordered separate visitation times for Kasem's wife and his children from his first marriage. Judge Daniel S. Murphy ruled that Kasem had to be hydrated, fed and medicated as a court-appointed lawyer reported on his health status. Jean Kasem claimed that he had been given no food, water or medication the previous weekend. Kerri Kasem's lawyer stated that she had him removed from artificial food and water on the orders of a doctor and in accordance with a directive her father signed in 2007 saying he would not want to be kept alive if it "would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope for normal functioning." Murphy reversed his order the following Monday after it became known that Kasem's body was no longer responding to the artificial nutrition, allowing the family to place Kasem on "end-of-life" measures over the objections of Jean Kasem.

On June 15, 2014, Kasem died at St. Anthony's Hospital in Gig Harbor, Washington at the age of 82. The immediate cause of death was reported as sepsis caused by an ulcerated bedsore. His body was handed over to his widow, who made funeral arrangements. Reportedly, Kasem wanted to be buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

By July 19, a judge had granted Kerri Kasem a temporary restraining order to prevent Jean Kasem from cremating the body in order to allow an autopsy to be performed. However, when Kerri Kasem went to give a copy of the order to the funeral home, she was informed that the body had been moved at the direction of Jean Kasem. Kasem's wife had the body moved to a funeral home in Montreal on July 14, 2014. On August 14, it was reported in the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang that Kasem was going to be buried in Oslo.

Kasem's wife, Jean had him interred at Oslo Western Civil Cemetery on December 16, 2014, more than six months after his death.

In November 2015, three of Kasem's children and his brother sued his widow for wrongful death. The lawsuit charges Jean Kasem with elder abuse and inflicting emotional distress on the children by restricting access before his death. A 2018 police investigation initiated by a private investigator working for Jean found that he had received appropriate medical care while in Washington, and that there was no evidence pointing to homicide.


In 1981, Kasem was granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame radio division in 1985, and the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1992. Five years later, he received the Radio Hall of Fame's first Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003, Kasem was given the Radio Icon award at the Radio Music Awards.




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