Following months of legal family wrangling over his care and access to seeing him Casey Kasem, who was literally the voice of a generation as host and co-creator of the American Top 40 syndicated radio show, has died on Father’s day (6/15) at age 82 after complications from Lewy Body Dementia, a degenerative condition similar to Parkinson’s Disease.
KERRI KASEM @KerriKasem Tweeted the sad news: “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.”
Kasem, whose professional radio career started in the mid-1950s in Flint, Michigan, was drafted into the US Army in 1952 and sent to Korea, where he was a DJ / announcer on the Armed Forces Radio Korea Network. He developed his rock-trivia persona from his work as a disc jockey in the early 1960s at KYA in San Francisco, California, and KEWB in Oakland, California. He also worked for several other stations across the country, including WJW (now WKNR) in Cleveland, Ohio; WBNY (now WWWS) in Buffalo, New York; and KRLA 1110 in Los Angeles, California (1963–69), before launching the national show American Top 40 on July 4, 1970. Kasem also starred in several low-budget movies in the 1960s. In 1967 he played the role of “Mouth” in the motorcycle gang film precursor to Easy Rider, The Glory Stompers which also starred Dennis Hopper and two scions of Hollywood royalty Jody McCrea (son of Joel McCrea) and Lindsay Crosby (son of Bing Crosby), along with Chris Noel and Jock Mahoney.
Kasem is best known as a music historian and disc jockey, most notably as host of the weekly American Top 40 radio program from July 4, 1970 through 1988, and again from March 1998 until January 10, 2004, when Ryan Seacrest succeeded him. During Kasem’s original run (1970–88), his show featured certain songs in addition to the countdown, such as a “long distance dedication” from one listener to another; or, the song of a “spotlight artist.” On the July 4 weekend of each year, the show’s anniversary, Kasem often featured a special countdown of particular songs from a certain era, genre or artist. The Moody Blues were the only artist to appear in both Kasem’s first countdown on July 4, 1970, and his last on August 6, 1988. Michael Jackson appeared in both countdowns, but as part of The Jackson Five in 1970 and as a solo artist in 1988. Kasem hosted the spin-off television series America’s Top 10 for most of the 1980s. For a period in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kasem was the staff announcer for the NBC television network. More recently, he has appeared in infomercials, marketing CD music compilations. Kasem received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 27, 1981 (his 49th birthday) and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1992. When he was hosting American Top 40, Kasem would often include trivia facts about songs he played and artists whose work he showcased. Frequently, he would mention a trivia fact about an unnamed singer before a commercial break, then provide the name of the singer after returning from the break. This technique, called a tease, later also made its way into America’s Top 10, where viewers would submit trivia questions for him to answer. In 1971, he provided the character voice of Peter Cottontail in the Rankin/Bass production of Here Comes Peter Cottontail opposite Vincent Price providing the voice of the villainous Iron Tail. Kasem would end both his radio and television broadcasts with his signature sign-off, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”[
The countdown featured the popular segment “Long Distance Dedication.” But Kasem said it wasn’t part of the show until 1978 when a staffer found the letter in the mail. Over the years, more than 3,000 dedications were read on the show. At the height of his popularity — the 1980s — Kasem took a version of his syndicated radio countdown to TV. He used the burgeoning music video craze on America’s Top 10.
In his goodbye to radio fans in 2009, Kasem said, “Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You’re only as good as the people you work with and the people you work for. I’ve been lucky, I’ve worked for and with the very best.”
His signature line was “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”