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Casey Kasem, the American Top 40 radio host who crafted a long and lucrative career out of counting down to No. 1, has died on Father’s Day, his final weeks poisoned by an intense family feud. He was 82.
Kasem, who hosted the syndicated weekend show for nearly four decades, died Sunday of complications from dementia at St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor, Wash.
Danny Deraney, the publicist for daughter Kerri Kasem, confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the radio host died at 3:23 a.m. Kerri posted a note on Facebook about the news.
“Early this Father’s Day morning, our dad Casey Kasem passed away surrounded by family and friends,” she wrote. “Even though we know he is in a better place and no longer suffering, we are heartbroken. Thank you for all your love, support and prayers. The world will miss Casey Kasem, an incredible talent and humanitarian; we will miss our Dad. With love, Kerri, Mike and Julie.”
In October, his three eldest children claimed that their stepmother, actress Jean Kasem, wouldn’t allow them to visit their father. They staged a protest outside the couple’s estate, waving signs that read, “Let Casey See His Kids.” Two months later, Julie and Mike reached a confidential settlement with Jean granting them visitation; Kerri refused to sign the agreement.
“I’m not afraid of her; they are,” she said of Jean and her siblings in a story published by THR in February. “This visitation agreement not only treats us like criminals, it treats my dad like an inmate. It’s about money for her. It’s about love for us.”
The situation took another bizarre turn in May when a judge ordered an investigation into Kasem’s whereabouts after an attorney for his wife said he had been removed from the country. Kasem had been in a convalescent hospital in Santa Monica, and he was later found to be with his wife staying with friends at a residence in Washington state. A judge cleared the way for Kerri to have him admitted to the hospital, and Wednesday, doctors, per Kerri’s wishes, were allowed to stop artificially feeding and hydrating the radio icon.
Since his first broadcast from Hollywood on seven stations on July 4, 1970, to his finale on the same holiday weekend in 2009, the peppy Kasem ended each American Top 40 show with his signature line: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
Kasem loosely based his countdown format on the 1950s TV program Your Hit Parade. More than just spinning singles, he blended a mix of trivia, dedications, requests and artist information as he counted down the Top 40 each weekend. His first No. 1 song? Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come.”
Kasem said he wanted to be the “voice of the guy next door,” and his style was to accent the positive, considering each one of the hits a major accomplishment for each act involved. He never focused on the negative, such as a big drop-off for a particular song, and remained family-friendly. His shows also tugged at the heartstrings with such elements as “Long Distance Dedications.”
“I feel good that you can be going to synagogue or church and listen to me, and nobody is going to be embarrassed by the language that I use, the innuendo,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1986. “It’s just not my style … quite frankly, I think we’re good for America.”
Radio and television personality Ryan Seacrest mourned Kasem’s death.
“It’s a sad day for the broadcasting community and for radio listeners around the world,” Seacrest said in a statement. “When I was a kid, I would listen to Casey Kasem’s AT40 show every weekend, and dream about someday becoming a radio DJ. So when decades later I took over his AT40 countdown show, it was a surreal moment. Casey had a distinctive friendly on-air voice, and he was just as affable and nice if you had the privilege to be in his company. He’ll be greatly missed by all of us.”
Kasem’s friendly, crackling tones also were heard as Shaggy on the CBS cartoon Scooby-Doo Where Are You!, which premiered in 1969. He quit the show in 1997 in a dispute over a Burger King commercial but was back in 2002 when it was determined that Shaggy would be a vegetarian, just like Kasem.
Kasem also provided the voice of Batman’s pal Robin the Boy Wonder on several cartoon series.
He was born Kemal Amen Kasem on April 27, 1932, in Detroit, the son of a Lebanese grocer father and a Lebanese-American mother. Kasem made his radio debut covering sports for his Northwestern High School station, then performed in radio dramas at Wayne State University, voicing The Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and other heroes of the airwaves.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952 and served as an announcer and DJ on the Armed Forces Radio Korea Network. After his discharge, he moved around the country as a radio announcer, working in Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, N.Y., and Oakland, Calif.
In Oakland, Kasem created a program in which he integrated biographical tidbits about the artists before each song. It quickly became a hit.
Kasem relocated to Los Angeles in 1963 when he secured a radio job at KRLA. He moonlighted by hosting “dance hops” on local TV, which attracted the notice of Dick Clark, who signed Kasem in 1964 to host Shebang, a daily musical TV show that Clark produced.
In 1970, Kasem opened his first three-hour American Top 40 broadcast by playing Marvin Gaye’s “The End of Our Road.” He hosted the program until August 1988, when he quit in a salary dispute with ABC, and Shadoe Stevens took over.
Kasem started his own program, Casey’s Top 40, for Westwood One — as part of a five-year, $15 million deal — soon afterward. In 1995, American Top 40 folded, and Kasem started hosting a new version three years later; in 2004, he passed the torch to Seacrest. He did countdown shows for Premiere Radio Networks until July 2009; two years earlier, he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Kasem always wanted to be an actor and appeared in such movies as The Girls From Thunder Strip (1966), The Glory Stompers (1967) with Dennis Hopper, Scream Free! (1969), 2000 Years Later (1969), The Cycle Savages (1969), The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971), Disco Fever (1978) and Ghostbusters (1984), in which he played himself.
He also provided the voice for characters on Sesame Street, Josie and the Pussycats and Transformers; served as NBC’s staff announcer in the late 1970s; hosted the syndicated TV show America’s Top 10 for a decade; did hundreds of commercials; guest-starred on such TV shows as Fantasy Island, Ironside and The New Mike Hammer; and appeared on Nick at Nite to count down reruns on New Year’s Eve.
Kasem was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1992, and five years later, Billboard presented him with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kasem was married to Linda Myers from 1972 until 1979, then wed the former Jean Thompson — some 21 years younger and many inches taller than he — in a December 1980 ceremony at the Hotel Bel-Air officiated by Rev. Jesse Jackson. (She went on to star as ditzy blonde Loretta Tortelli on the sitcom Cheers and in a short-lived spinoff.) They had a daughter, Liberty. His fortune had been estimated at $80 million.
In April 2013, the couple listed their 12,000-square-foot Holmby Hills mansion with 17 bathrooms for $42 million but pulled it from the market in September.
Survivors also include Kasem’s brother, Mouner.
Duane Byrge contributed to this report.
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