Radio legend Casey Kasem passed Sunday, at 82, after a long fight with Lewy Body dementia, a disease that slowly effects the muscles and mind. But in his heyday, long before the diagnosis, Kasem was the man with a smooth voice and unforgettable cadence that made him famous for popular phrases "coast-to-coast."
Born Kemal Amen Kasem on April 27, 1932, Kasem’s Midwest roots came as the child of Lebanese immigrants who ran a Detroit grocery story. Although he admits to not understanding the language, his clear and eloquent execution of the English language led to him producing radio shows for the Armed Forces and later working for Los Angeles’ KRLA. He even hosted a local dance show.
Kasem’s niche was his knack at providing historical, unique, interesting information on the songs he played. In between each single he added juicy tidbits, often about the artists, and sometimes sharing stories and shout outs taken from fans and listeners. This all made for the foundation of his hit radio show, “American Top 40,” which he pitched in 1970 to syndication company Watermark, Inc, a company that later became ABC Radio Networks. Within a year, the show – which took its playlist from hits on the Billboard chart – went from five outlets to 1000 across the country.
But in typical radio fashion, a contract dispute led Casey to leave the show and create a new one named, “Casey’s Top 40,” which he took to a competing syndication company. A decade later, after acquiring the rights to the name, “American Top 40,” Kasem ended up owning and running both shows. But after 30 years and 10 million listeners, he eventually handed over hosting duties of “American Top 40” to Ryan Seacrest in 2004, before retiring in 2009.
During his run, Kasem was the voice of Shaggy on the cartoon series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! And his vocals were heard in commercials for Ford, Sears, Chevron, and Oscar Mayer. With acting being his original goal, he managed to make cameo appearances in only a few movies like New York, New York (1977) and Ghostbusters (1984).
When he wasn’t playing music, Kasem – who didn’t even listen to rock and roll – preferred to sit home in silence. Known for advocating for Middle East Peace and Arab American causes, he regularly made appearances at synagogues and mosques nationwide.
But the later days of his life were unfortunately filled with turmoil. Family fights between his current wife, actress Jean Kasem, and from a previous marriage his three oldest children (who he gave legal authority to act as his health proxy), boiled over in the media when Jean took Casey out of a Santa Monica, CA nursing home to stay with friends in Washington, without his children knowing. When Kasem’s whereabouts were finally revealed, he was returned to a hospital by court order on June 1, where he died weeks later.
Despite a dramatic end to an amazing life, the sound of Kasem’s voice and efforts to keep radio clean and wholesome, will always live in the memories of Hollywood heads, radio DJs, baby boomers, and longtime, knowledgeable, music lovers forever. “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 said, in an interview with the New York Times. “Quite frankly, I think we’re good for America.”