Casey Kasem, a radio voice who connected generations of Americans to thousands of rock and pop acts, died Sunday morning, according to multiple media outlets. Kerri Kasem, Casey’s daughter, announced the news on her Facebook page:
“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,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “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.”
Kasem, hospitalized in Washington state since 6/1, had been in declining health.
The longtime host of radio’s American Top 40, which he started in 1970, was a familiar voice to millions, known for his signature closing advice: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Over the years, he hosted other versions of the music countdown show on radio and television. Kasem founded the American Top 40 franchise with Don Bustany, Tom Rounds and Ron Jacobs, and hosted it from 1970 to 1988 and from 1998 to 2004. Between January 1989 and early 1998, he was the host of Casey’s Top 40, Casey’s Hot 20, and Casey’s Countdown. Also beginning in 1998, Kasem hosted two AC spin-offs of American Top 40, American Top 20, and American Top 10. Kasem retired from AT20 and AT10 on July 4, 2009 and both shows ended on that day. Ryan Seacrest took over the AT40 franchise in 2004.
A spinoff of his popular radio show was the syndicated television series America’s Top 10, which Kasem hosted through the 1980s. The show recapped the top 10 songs on various music charts, including rock, country and soul. Kasem brought elements of the radio broadcast to television, including answering questions with sometimes obscure facts about musical acts.
Kasem began his TV career hosting Shebang, a dance show aired weekday afternoons on KTLA-TV LA in the mid to late 1960s. His first work as a voice actor was as the voice Robin in the 1968 Batman cartoons. Kasem went on to become a prominent voice actor, and is most connected in that field to his work for programs produced by Hanna-Barbera. His best known role was the voice of Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo, beginning with the first series, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969), and continuing until 1995, and again from 2002 to 2009. He has done work for other animated series, including reprising his role as Robin for various versions of SuperFriends (1973–85), three 1970 episodes of Sesame Street, the drummer Groove from The Cattanooga Cats (1969), Alexander Cabot III from Josie and the Pussycats (1970) and Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space (1972), Merry from The Return of the King (1980); and television specials, such as Rankin-Bass’ Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971). He voiced Mark, the American name of Ken Washio in Battle of the Planets, the first American version of Gatchaman, as well as Bluestreak, Cliffjumper, Teletraan I and Dr. Arkeville in the original Transformers animated series.
The Detroit native, a son of Lebanese immigrants, had been in the news recently with his care the focus of a litigious dispute between his wife, Jean Kasem, and his grown children. For a time earlier this year, his children did not know his whereabouts.
The retired host was taken to a hospital following a dispute between Kerri and Jean. A judge ruled 6/11 that Kerri was allowed to withhold medication, food and fluids from her father, who was ailing from sepsis and dementia, as well as Parkinson’s, said the USA Today story.
Shortly after the judge’s ruling, Kerri wrote on Facebook, “For people who do not understand the natural dying process: Giving food and water to a dying body creates pain and further suffering. The body does not want or require food or water anymore in the dying process. My father can no longer digest foods and fluids fill his lungs up and will suffocate him. My Dad IS on pain meds.”
Kasem, known for his distinctive, rich, dramatic voice, was the youngest member ever to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He first served as a DJ and radio announcer while serving in the Army during the Korean War and he began his professional radio career in the 1950s.
Said Clear Channel Networks President Darren Davis: “People all over America have fond memories of Casey counting down the best songs each week. I can vividly remember listening to American Top 40 each Sunday morning when I was a kid, and Casey’s polished style and dedication to his craft helped me fall in love with radio. He was a true gem, and I’m grateful I got to meet him several times over the years. Casey was such a wonderful man.”
Eric Weiss, of the Weiss Agency, tells RBR-TVBR: “Casey was an astute businessman, always a pleasure to work with and a true gentleman. He worked as long and hard on keeping his countdown programs consistently excellent in his 39th year, as he did in his first year. And he understood who the ultimate consumers were in syndication – his radio station affiliates. No matter how much of an icon he was, He always made himself available to service their needs and personalize the promotion of his program on their stations. I was lucky enough to work with Casey case in 2 capacities over the last 25 years. As the head of legal and business affairs for Westwood One, I negotiated the deal that brought Casey from American Top 40 at ABC radio networks to bring him to Westwood One to host Casey’s top 40 in January of 1989. It was an idea that NORM PATTIZ spearheaded, and it really put Westwood One on the map to have such an icon join the network. When Casey found out that I was going to have to cancel my flight the next day to visit family over the Christmas holidays because the Westwood one deal hadn’t yet been signed, he invited me over to his suite at the Beverly Wilshire, where he and Jean lived at the time. We carefully reviewed every line of his contract together, and he signed it, late that night and told me to go home and enjoy the holidays. He was always the ultimate class act. Then in 1998 he became one of my first clients at The Weiss Agency. When he left ABC Radio he was savvy enough to have had a clause in his contract to have the American top 40 trademark revert to him if they ever discontinued use of it. Once SHADOE Stevens went off the air, ownership of the American top 40 trademark and the AT40 programming from the 70’s and 80’s did revert to him. This allowed us to package the trademark, the library of past programs and put together the deal with AMFM radio networks to have Casey as host of AT40 once again in 1998. The original library of 70’s and 80’s programs which we sold to AMFM (now Premiere) continue to have successful runs in both terrestrial syndication and at Sirius/XM.”
RBR-TVBR asked Weiss: Any idea how many affiliates he had at his peak? “Don’t have an exact number. But I’m guessing that the most affiliates was when he was with the ABC Radio Networks. I do know that his show was in so much demand back then that ABC Radio actually asked stations to carry the commercial load for their entire youth radio network in exchange for rights to the program. In that regard, the show was much more valuable to the network than simply the revenue that was placed within his program.”
A former ABC Radio exec tells RBR-TVBR: “Ed McLaughlin at ABC Radio had a lot to do with Casey being so successful. He took Casey from being on a limited line up of 20 some stations, a la Tom Rounds of Watermark had him on WNBC in NY a third rate NY station when compared to WABC and put him on 300 + stations. One never looked back. Guess who made a lot of the sales for the new AT 40 and generating 10 million in sales each year? Along with Paul Harvey, this is what made up ABC’s profit. We sold $200 million of news and spent 200+ in station compensation & news /sports costs.”
Said American Top 40 syndicator Premiere Networks: “On behalf of everyone at Premiere Networks, we offer our sincerest condolences to Casey Kasem’s family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this most difficult time. One of the most recognizable voices in radio and television, Casey set a gold standard for all broadcasters as the creator and host of American Top 40 for nearly 40 years, and he set the bar even higher outside the studio with his dedication to numerous charitable causes. While we’re deeply saddened to say good bye to our dear friend, Casey’s legacy will live on in the hearts of his millions of fans worldwide.”
Said SAG-AFTRA in a statement: “SAG-AFTRA remembers the tremendous Casey Kasem, a DJ and television personality whose distinctive style and influential American Top 40 program changed broadcasting.
Kasem, who joined SAG in 1966 and AFTRA in 1979, also worked as a voice actor, perhaps most famously as the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo. His American Top 40, Casey’s Top 40 and his various other spin-off shows were staples of the American music scene, as was his signature sign-off line, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard offered condolences to Kasem’s loved ones and said the DJ 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. My deepest sympathy to his family and friends, and may we all remember him best by ‘reaching for the stars,’” he said.
As the world mourns the loss Casey Kasem, American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest honors the program’s creator with a special on-air and online tribute. Next weekend, June 21 and 22, the internationally syndicated program will be dedicated to the “King of Countdowns,” featuring major moments from Kasem’s nearly 40 years behind the AT40 mic. From the first time he introduced music superstars Michael Jackson and Britney Spears, to the first No.1 he ever introduced – “Mama Told Me Not to Come” by Three Dog Night, listeners will be treated to Kasem’s signature long-distance dedications and stories behind the songs and artists that made AT40 one of the most popular syndicated radio shows around the world.
A special tribute has been launched on www.AT40.com where fans can hear classic AT40 highlights featuring Kasem and view photos of the Radio Hall of Famer throughout his career. Fans are also encouraged to visit the site and share their favorite AT40 memories, as well as personal messages about Kasem. In addition, iHeartRadio, is saluting the career of Kasem by featuring a collection of his most memorable AT40 countdowns from the ‘70s and ‘80s. To listen to the 24/7 tribute, visit http://bit.ly/1pNibYi.
“It’s a sad day for the broadcasting community and for radio listeners around the world,” said Ryan Seacrest. “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.”
Said John Tesh: “Casey Kasem had a profound effect on millions of us listeners…… But my family can attest that Casey developed a personal connection with me, and our radio show staff, and for that matter all of our radio station affiliates around the world. You see, 12 years ago Casey went on vacation and asked if I would fill in for his countdown show while he was away. I, of course, said yes. Imagine the opportunity! Well to make a very long story short, I got ‘bit hard’ by the radio bug and knew that, after that substitute hosting experience, I wanted to launch my own radio program. And so it’s easy to say that Casey was a huge part of launching Intelligence For Your Life. It was Casey Kasem who taught all of us in the world of broadcasting that it was indeed possible to use the radio to develop deep relationships with other people.
We love you …we miss you Casey Kasem.”
RBR-TVBR observation: We thought it was really nice that his family was playing AT40 shows for Casey to hear in his last days in hospice. While he probably couldn’t respond much, we’re pretty sure he heard them, made him happy and reminded him of just how big an impression he made on the radio broadcasting industry, artists and record labels. Most of us grew up hearing Kasem’s American Top 40 and the incredible style and presentation he brought to the program. He is truly an icon of radio and the music industry–and will always be remembered as such.