BREAKING: Radio personality and frequent voice-over actor Casey Kasem died today after a long battle with Lewy body dementia. He was 82. A longtime disc jockey, Kasem was best known as the voice for the syndicated radio program American Top 40 where over two stints totaling 24 years he counted down the nation’s hit songs while reading out sentimental song dedications from listeners to their loved ones. In between those two stints, he was the voice on Casey’s Top 40, a similar and competing syndicated show, for about nine more years. He always signed off his shows with, “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”
One of Kasem’s children, Kerri Kasem, posted on Facebook a short statement and a photo of her with her father. The statement also was later released through a family spokesperson: “Early this Father’s Day morning, our dad Casey Kasem passed away surrounded by family and friends. 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.” According to the spokesperson, Kasem died at 3:23 AM at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Gig Harbor, Wash., surrounded by his children, other close family and friends. No cause of death was given. In recent months, as Kasem’s health declined, there was a public and heated court battle between his children and his first wife over his care.
SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard said Kasem, a union member, had had a profound influence on the music business.“For many, the multitalented Casey Kasem was the voice of popular music, and his long-running countdown program brought exposure for many of his fellow union members,” said Howard. “My deepest sympathy to his family and friends, and may we all remember him best by ‘reaching for the stars.’”
Kasem began working in radio in 1952 and was a DJ for the Armed Forces Radio Network while serving in the Army during the Korean War. He later worked at radio stations in half a dozen cities, including KRLA-AM in Los Angeles, before co-creating American Top 40 with three others in 1970. He was the show’s voice and personality, counting down the week’s most popular songs, issuing those dedications and pulling out bits of music trivia each week, until 1988. A year later, he launched the competing Casey’s Top 40, which had a similar format and approach, and was its voice until 1998, when he returned to AT40 for six more years, when he turned over the reins to Ryan Seacrest in 2004. He was also the voice on various other spinoffs, including the TV show America’s Top 10, over the years as well.
UPDATE 1:30 PM: Seacrest, who continues to host AT40 on Premiere Networks, issued the following statement: “It’s a sad day for the broadcasting community and for radio listeners around the world. 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 also had a long career in voiceover work, for commercials, as staff announcer for NBC, and most notably for 40 years as the always-hungry post-hippie Shaggy on the long-running children’s cartoon Scooby-Doo, as well as other animated shows such as Super Friends, Transformers and Battle of the Planets. During the 1960s, he had on-camera roles in a series of low-budget films, including biker flicks The Glory Stompers, Wild Wheels and The Cycle Savages. He appeared twice in on-camera roles in the original Hawaii Five-O as well. Kasem was a member of the National Radio Hall of Fame, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He was born named Kemal Amin Kasem to Lebanese immigrant parents in Detroit, Mich., on April 27, 1932, and grew up there, eventually graduating from nearby Wayne State University. Kasem was an activist in a number of causes, most notably environmental issues and those affecting Arabs. He was particularly vocal after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 about government surveillance of Americans of Arab descent.