Casey Kasem, ‘American Top 40’ Radio Countdown Host, Dies at 82
Casey Kasem, the radio personality who spent about four decades counting down the most popular songs in the U.S. each week, has died. He was 82.
Kasem, who lived in Los Angeles, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007. He had been receiving home health care for a form of dementia called Lewy Body Disease, according to court papers filed by his daughter, who was appointed his temporary conservator in May 2014.
Casey Kasem was a co-creator of “American Top 40,” a syndicated pop music program that featured the week’s top singles, trivia tidbits and listener dedications. He began developing the format as a disc jockey in the 1960s.
“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars,” he said at the end of each program. He hosted the show from its 1970 debut until 1988, and again from 1998 to 2004. The decade-long gap resulted from his departure in a salary dispute. During those years, he hosted a competing program.
Kasem left for the second time when Ryan Seacrest, the host of the “American Idol” television show, succeeded him. He hosted a couple of spinoff countdowns until 2009, when he retired from broadcasting.
On television, he provided the voice of Norville “Shaggy” Rogers in “Scooby-Doo,” an animated series. Shaggy was one of several crime-fighting teenagers and the sidekick of the title character, a Great Dane.
Kasem was a co-host of Jerry Lewis’s annual Labor Day telethons, which benefited the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He also had been on the advisory boards of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, which criticized media bias and censorship, and the Washington-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Kemal Amin “Casey” Kasem was born on April 27, 1932, in Detroit. Both his parents were of Lebanese descent, and his father was a grocer.
As a boy, he dreamed of becoming a baseball player. Instead, he covered sports as a member of the radio club at Northwestern High School in Detroit, where his interest in broadcasting began.
Acting was another of Kasem’s pursuits. He performed in radio productions of “The Lone Ranger” and “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” at Detroit’s Wayne State University, where he majored in speech education.
Kasem was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1952 and sent to Korea. He was an announcer and disc jockey on the Armed Forces Radio Network and also coordinated and acted in radio dramas.
After two years overseas, Kasem returned home and worked as a radio disc jockey in Detroit while finishing college. After graduating in 1957, he landed jobs playing music at radio stations in Cleveland, Buffalo, New York, and Oakland, California.
Kasem began laying the groundwork for “American Top 40” in 1962, while working in Oakland. He found a magazine called Who’s Who in Pop Music in the station’s trash can and used it to tell stories about singers and bands before playing their songs. The so-called teaser-bio format became a standard on his countdown shows.
The next year, he moved to KRLA-AM in Los Angeles, where he pursued acting as well as radio. He became the voice of Shaggy when the animated cartoon series “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You” began in 1969. Shaggy was later depicted as a vegetarian at the request of Kasem, who adopted the diet in the early 1970s.
“American Top 40” started as a collaboration between Kasem and Don Bustany, a Lebanese-American who was a childhood friend and worked in radio and television. The first syndicated show was broadcast on July 4, 1970.
“When we first went on the air, I thought we would be around for at least 20 years,” Kasem told Variety magazine in a 1989 interview. “I knew the formula worked. I knew people tuned in to find out what the No. 1 record was.”
A spinoff television show, “America’s Top 10,” began in 1980. The program, hosted by Kasem, was broadcast for about a decade in syndication.
Kasem left “American Top 40” in 1989 after failing to agree on a new contract with the show’s owner, ABC Radio Networks, part of Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. at the time. Shadoe Stevens, a radio personality also known to viewers of the “Hollywood Squares” TV show, took his place as host. Later that year, Kasem started a competing program, “Casey’s Top 40,” which aired for the Westwood One radio network, a unit of Viacom Inc. (VIA), based in New York.
Outtakes from Casey’s Top 40 appeared on the “U2” extended-play recording by Negativland, a group that combined music with sound collages, in 1991. Kasem was heard swearing to his staff during a dedication and criticizing U2, the rock band led by Bono and the Edge.
The incident didn’t stop Kasem’s show from prevailing over “American Top 40,” which was canceled in 1995. Kasem bought the rights to his former program’s name from ABC Radio, and left Westwood One when the network wouldn’t let him use that name in place of “Casey’s Top 40.”
“American Top 40” was revived in 1998 by AMFM Radio Networks, now a unit of San Antonio-based CC Media Holdings Inc. (CCMO), with Kasem as host. In January 2004, he turned over the hosting to Seacrest. He stayed at two other shows, “America’s Top 20” and “America’s Top 10,” until his retirement.
Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame has a star with Kasem’s name. He entered the National Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame in 1985, and received a lifetime-achievement award from Billboard magazine in 1997.
Kasem was married twice. He was wed to the former Linda Myers, a singer and actress, from 1972 to 1979. The couple had a son, Michael, and two daughters, Kerri and Julie. Michael and Kerri became radio and television hosts.
In 1980, he married the former Jean Thompson, an actress. They had a daughter, Liberty Kasem, in 1990.
Kasem’s second wife and the children from his first marriage sparred over his medical care during the final months of his life. The dispute began in October 2013, when Kerri and Julie led a protest outside Kasem’s Los Angeles home and urged their stepmother to let them see him.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Charles W. Stevens at email@example.com Steven Gittelson, Bill Banker