WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Casey Kasem, the U.S. radio personality who counted down pop music hits on his popular weekly radio show and also lent his distinctive voice to hippie sleuth Shaggy in the “Scooby Doo” cartoons, died on Sunday. He was 82.
“Early this Father’s Day morning, our dad Casey Kasem passed away surrounded by family and friends,” his daughter, Kerri Kasem, said in a statement posted online. “Even though we know he is in a better place and no longer suffering, we are heartbroken.”
Kasem, whose final years were marked by dementia, had been the focus of a dispute between his three children from his first marriage and his second wife, Jean Kasem. They said she had prevented them from visiting him as he suffered from Lewy body dementia, a malady with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.
As his health deteriorated, a Los Angeles judge sided with the adult children and permitted them to withhold food, hydration and his usual medication as they chose comfort-oriented, end-of-life care at a Washington state hospital.
“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars,” Kasem, a Detroit-born Lebanese-American, told millions of listeners at the end of his invariably cheery weekly radio program, which ran from 1970 to 2009.
On his syndicated show, Kasem counted down the 40 most popular songs of the week in order, finishing with the No. 1 song. Before each song, Kasem told an upbeat anecdote about the singer’s road to success and read letters from listeners.
At its peak, Kasem’s American Top 40 show was heard on more than 1,000 stations in about 50 countries. “I accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. That is the timeless thing,” Kasem told the New York Times in 1990. There was an immediate outpouring on Twitter from both fans and celebrities. “We’ve lost a music industry icon. Chngd the industry w/AT40 Cntdwn. RIP Casey Kasem,” said singer and actress Marie Osmond.
Motley Crue base player Nikki Sixx said, “RIP Casey Kasem who inspired all of us in radio & turned millions of people onto music. Sending love to Kerri Kasem, family and friends.”
Television personality Carson Daly passed along his condolences over Twitter.
“Long before MTV and the internet, Casey Kasem made sure you were hearing the best music out there. Peace be to his family and RIP,” he tweeted.
Ryan Seacrest, who now hosts American Top 40, said it was a sad day for the broadcasting community and for radio listeners around the world. “He’ll be greatly missed by all of us,” Seacrest said in a statement on his website.
Kasem was famed for his unmistakable tenor voice - also heard on thousands of commercials and television announcements.
“It’s a natural quality of huskiness in the midrange of my voice that I call ‘garbage,’” he told the Times. “It’s not a clear-toned announcer’s voice. It’s more like the voice of the guy next door.”
For four decades starting in 1969, he provided the voice of Shaggy - the perpetually hungry, easily frightened, mystery-solving human pal of a Great Dane in the TV cartoon series “Scooby Doo, Where Are You!” and its various other incarnations.
“Zoinks! C’mon, Scoob!” Kasem’s Shaggy would exclaim as a mummy, zombie, snow beast or swamp monster would chase him, Scooby and fellow youthful sleuths Fred, Velma and Daphne.
He was born in Detroit as Kemal Amin Kasem on April 27, 1932, the son of a Lebanese Druze grocer. He gained broadcast experience covering sports for his high school’s radio club.
The diminutive Kasem - 5 feet, 6 1/2 inches tall (1.68 meters) - was drafted to serve in the U.S. military in 1952 and was sent to the Korean War, working as a disc jockey on U.S. armed forces radio.
In 1970, along with childhood friend Don Bustany, Kasem came up with the idea of a radio show counting down the top pop hits of the week based on the earlier successful “Your Hit Parade” program. His show debuted on July 4, 1970, as “American Top 40”.
Kasem had three children with his first wife, Linda Myers, before divorcing in 1979. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson officiated when he married his second wife, actress Jean Kasem, in 1980. They had one child.
Additional reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in New York and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Stephen Powell and Chris Reese