Monday, June 16, 2014

R.I.P: Legendary Radio Icon Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem, a radio icon who never claimed to love rock ’n’ roll but who built a long and lucrative career from it, creating and hosting one of radio’s most popular syndicated pop music shows, “American Top 40,” died on Sunday in a hospital in Gig Harbor, Wash.

He was 82.

The NY Times reports his death was announced by Danny Deraney, a spokesman for Mr. Kasem’s daughter Kerri. Mr. Kasem had Lewy body dementia, a progressive disease of the body’s neurological and muscle cells.

In his final months, Kasem, who had lived in Beverly Hills, Calif., was at the center of a family legal battle over the terms of his death, pitting his wife, the actress Jean Kasem, against his three adult children from a previous marriage. Jean Kasem removed her husband from a Santa Monica nursing home on May 7 and took him to stay with friends in Washington State. By court order, he was moved to the hospital on June 1.

Kemal Amen Kasem was born in Detroit on April 27, 1932. His parents, Amin and Helen Kasem, were Lebanese immigrants who owned a grocery store. After graduating from Wayne State University in Detroit, he worked in local radio, produced broadcasts for the Armed Forces Network during a stint in the Army and landed in Los Angeles, at KRLA, where he developed his trademark of introducing records with historical tidbits about the artists and their songs.

Ten things you may not have known about Casey Kasem:
  • Only seven radio stations carried the debut of “American Top 40” on July 4, 1970. But within a year more than 100 did, and by the mid-1970s it had reached nearly 1,000 outlets “coast to coast,” as Mr. Kasem liked to say, making him one of the best-known D.J.'s in the country.
  • He had modeled the show, he later told interviewers, on the old NBC radio program “Your Hit Parade” (also known as “The Lucky Strike Hit Parade”). “I thought we’d be around for at least 20 years,” he said. “Because I knew the formula worked.”
  • In 1970, for no apparent reason, Kasem let Variety know that his annual income from commercials exceeded $100,000.
  • By 1973 Kasem said he had logged 600 commercials in four years: “Never a day passes that there isn’t a residual check in my mailbox,” he gloated.
  • Mr. Kasem also hosted a syndicated television version of the show in the 1980s. But his relationship with “American Top 40” ended in 1988 because of a contract dispute with his syndication company. The next year, he started “Casey’s Top 40,” a competing radio program on another network, bringing most of his old audience there with him.
  • Rock ’n’ roll was never Mr. Kasem’s passion, he told interviewers. He knew his subject, and kept up with it in a professional way, but when home, he told Billboard, “I find myself just wanting to sit in my office and make it as quiet as possible.”
  • Politics had no place on "American Top 40," nor did rock star peccadillos. The stories Mr. Kasem told were meant to be uplifting slices of life. "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars," was how Mr. Kasem signed off each week.
  • Kasem also was a shrewd businessman, making investments in Beverly Hills real estate and negotiating the sale of the "American Top 40" name.
  • Casey, a vegan who pursued liberal politics, had longtime associations with another famous Arab-American, Ralph Nader. He was outspoken on Palestinian issues and vegetarianism; Jesse Jackson officiated at his wedding, to his second wife, Jean Thompson, an actress who had a recurring role on "Cheers." He had three children with his first wife, Linda Myers Kasem, and a daughter with his second wife.
  • His biggest role off the radio was in the TV cartoon series “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” as the voice of Shaggy, the canine hero’s goofy companion. In the 1970s and ‘80s his voice was heard on television commercials for Sears, Ford, Chevron and Oscar Mayer.

In 2007, after he learned he had Lewy body dementia, Kasem gave his three eldest children legal authority to act as his health care proxy at whatever point he became unable to make decisions himself. The agreement stipulated that he did not want to be kept alive with “any form of life-sustaining procedures, including nutrition and hydration,” if he lost all cognitive function and was given no hope of recovery. Differences between the three older children and Mr. Kasem’s wife played out in increasingly bitter courtroom clashes in the final months.

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