An Icon Signs Off
Radio and cartoon voice over legend Casey Kasem has passed away at the age of 82 after a long battle with Lewy body disease. The illness is a progressive form of dementia, which left him unable to speak, eat or move on his own. He had been transferred to hospice care in Washington state shortly before his death.
The son of Lebanese immigrant parents, he was born Keml Amin Kasem in Detroit, MI. on April 27, 1932. He would go on to graduate from Wayne State University in Detroit, and begin his radio career in Flint, Michigan in the early 1950s. He was drafted into the Army and served in Korea, where he worked as a disc jockey and announcer on the Armed Forces Radio Korea Network.
Once he returned to the U.S., Kasem continued working as a DJ at radio stations in San Francisco, Oakland, Cleveland, Buffalo and Los Angeles. His big break came on July 4, 1970 when he launched the national radio show American Top 40. The weekly program featured Kasem counting down the most popular songs in the country. The program became a long running hit that stayed on the air until 1988. Kasem re-launched the show in 1998. The show is currently hosted by Ryan Seacrest.
As well know as he was on radio, Casey Kasem was also a familiar voice on cartoons. He was the voice of Shaggy on the earlier Scooby-Doo cartoons, as well as Cliffjumper and Teletraan I in the original Transformers animated series, Robin in the 60s Batman and Super Friends/Super Powers cartoons, and Mark on Battle of the Planets, as well as other movie and television appearances.
In recent years Kasem was involved in a bitter family dispute between his wife Jean and his children from an earlier marriage, over his care. In May of 2014, Kasem’s children reported that he was missing. He was found days later at a friend’s residence with Jean in Washington state. A judge would grant his daughter Kerri Kasem expanded powers to look into the entertainer’s health. From there the family saga continued to take a series of bizarre turns.
On May 30, the family lambasted Jean in an exclusive statement to TheWrap. “Jean is intentionally causing her husband pain by adding further stress which is the worst thing you can do for anybody suffering from dementia,” the statement said. “Within the last year, Kerri, Mike and Julie have been blocked from seeing their father. The few short visits they received, the kids never once mentioned the dispute. They knew any additional stress would be harmful to his condition. Kerri, Mike and Julie are again devastated by Jean’s poor judgment.”
A few days later Kasem was transferred to hospice care to live out his final days. Then on Jun. 11, his children were given the go-ahead by a judge in Los Angeles to withhold medication, food and fluids. The decision reversed a ruling that the same judge had handed down just days earlier, ordering the continued feeding of the ailing entertainer, at Jean’s request.
The judge said he changed his mind after receiving medical records from Washington, indicating Kasem was not responding to artificial nutrition. “It would be acutely harmful for Mr. Kasem to have nutrition and hydration restored at this time,” the judge said.
On Jun. 12, a spokesman for Kerri told TheWrap that Casey was no longer receiving food, water or nutrients, and that he didn’t have much time left.
I will remember Casey Kasem for his Top 40 radio countdowns. It was a highlight of weekend drives when I was a kid. And I will forever remember the characters that he gave voice to. He created something special that will always have a place in my heart. And when I think of Casey Kasem, the first thing that I think of is the weekly sign-off that he would give at the end of his Top 40 program, “Keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars.” That still gives me tingles today.