Casey Kasem, the man behind one of the most famous voices on radio and television from the '70s through the 2000s, has died after a long battle with Parkinson's and dementia. He was 82.
"Even though we know he is in a better place and no longer suffering, we are heartbroken," said his daughter Kerri Kasem via social media. "The world will miss Casey Kasem, an incredible talent and humanitarian; we will miss our dad."
Kasem was best known as the host of American Top 40, the weekly countdown show that he co-founded in 1970 and hosted from 1970 through 1989, when he was succeeded by Shadoe Stevens. At the time, Kasem left ABC Radio Networks for Westwood One to host a new version of his weekly show re-titled Casey's Top 40 With Casey Kasem for a deal worth $17 million over five years, making him one of the highest-paid voices on radio.
He returned to AT40 in 1998 through 2004, after which Ryan Seacrest took the helm. His signature sign-off, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars," became legendary. He also hosted several similar spin-off countdown shows, including the TV show America's Top 10. After years of being one of the most popular and dependable voices in syndicated radio, he finally stepped away from the mic on July 4, 2009.
"When someone says, 'What do you do for a living?,' well, [I say] I'm not a radio personality," Kasem once told ABC News. "I am a disc jockey, and I play records. I play music for people to hear from 8 to 80."
Although radio was his first home, his voice was also heard frequently on television. He voiced the character Shaggy on the long-running cartoon franchise Scooby-Doo for four decades, finally retiring in 2009, but returned in 2010 to play Shaggy's father. His first stint as a voice actor was in 1968, as Robin, the Boy Wonder, in the Batman cartoon series. He reprised the role of Robin on SuperFriends from 1973-1985 and also appeared on several other cartoons, and he was a voiceover specialist on TV commercials for a wide variety of companies ranging from Chevron and Raid to Oscar Mayer and Dairy Queen. In addition, he made several TV and movie cameos over the years, including Hawaii Five-O, Saved by the Bell, Quincy, ALF, Charlie's Angels, and Ghostbusters.
He was born Kemal Amin Kasem on April 27, 1932 in Detroit to Lebanese Druze parents, who had immigrated from Palestine to Lebanon before settling in Detroit. He attended Wayne State University and began his radio career in the early '50s after he was drafted and sent to Korea, ending up as a DJ on the Armed Forces Radio Korea Network. From there, he landed several radio jobs, first in Flint, Mich., and later in San Francisco, Oakland, Buffalo, and Los Angeles, where he was a regular on KRLA for nine years before launching American Top 40.
Even after Kasem retired, his voice was still heard on radio, as Sirius Satellite Radio and Premiere Radio Networks began airing taped episodes of the show from the '70s and '80s.
His final years were somewhat tragic. He struggled with the effects of Parkinson's disease, while his second wife, 59-year-old actress Jean Kasem, publicly feuded with his three adult children, including radio personality Kerri Kasem, over visitation rights with their ailing father.
In May, the situation came to a head when Kerri Kasem reported that the radio legend had gone missing. He was later located in Washington state. In late May, a judge awarded Kerri visitation rights to see her father for the first time after Jean Kasem had taken him out of a Santa Monica, Calif., care facility and had him moved to Washington, without informing his adult children from his first marriage.
The judge also ruled that 41-year-old Kerri Kasem could take her father to be checked out by a doctor and hospitalized if needed. In a court hearing at the time, Kerri Kasem said that a physician hired by Jean Kasem said that the elder Kasem was suffering from lung and bladder infections and had bed sores.
The situation took an ugly turn on June 1, when Kerri Kasem arrived at her father's home with an ambulance to transport him to the hospital, but the ambulance attendants were not initially allowed inside. After someone inside the house called 911, a fire truck and a second ambulance arrived on the scene. Then, the situation grew bizarre when Jean Kasem came out of the home and hurled a pound of raw hamburger meat at Kerri Kasem, according to reports.
After paramedics were finally allowed in to take the elder Kasem to the hospital, Jean Kasem claimed to be following some form of Biblical instruction when she tossed the uncooked meat at her stepdaughter. "In the name of King David, I threw a piece of raw meat into the street in exchange for my husband to the wild rabid dogs," she told NBC News.
On a happier note, Kasem stepped down from American Top 40 he offered a bit of the "keep reaching for the stars" optimism that he shared with his listeners each week. "Rather than feeling sad about leaving American Top 40, I feel that there is a challenge ahead of me," he said in 2004. "I am happy doing what I am going to be doing, and I am happy having done what I did."