With 'American Top 40' And Shaggy, Casey Kasem Narrated Our Youth
Left: Casey Kasem in the Top 40 studio in 1998. Right: Shaggy Rogers from 'Scooby Doo,' one of many animated characters Kasem. Sources: Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images; Scoobypedia
In the '70s and '80s, the radio pop countdown had one authoritative voice: that of Casey Kasem, whose weekly broadcast American Top 40 was heard all over the country. Kasem had been in broadcasting for years before AT40 hit the airwaves -- starting with college radio and continuing on Armed Forces Radio while serving in Korea. Kasem brought his unique voice to children's programming as well, providing the dialogue for cartoon characters including Batman's sidekick Robin and Shaggy from Scooby Doo.
To this day, Kasem's voice lives on, as vintage American Top 40 shows and classic cartoons are re-played on satellite radio and TV networks. Kasem's unmistakable phrasing can take us back to our youth as much as the music he was introducing.
Casey Kasem was born on April 27, 1932, in Detroit Michigan, the son of Lebanese immigrants. His birth name was Kemal Amin Kasem, after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, but a show called “Make Believe Ballroom” inspired him to turn his interest to radio.
Developing The DJ Style That Would Make 'American Top 40' A Hit
While attending Northwestern High School in Detroit, he covered sports for the school’s radio club. He later attended Wayne State University where he did children’s voices on “Challenge of the Yukon” and “The Lone Ranger.” At the age of twenty, Kasem was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to Korea. While there, he honed his broadcasting skills while working as a DJ and announcer for the Armed Forces Radio Korea Network, where he often included trivia about the music he played during his programs. After returning to the United States, he worked at radio stations in various cities across the country, including San Francisco, Cleveland, and Oakland. He began a trend of introducing each song with a “teaser and a bio.”
Success As A Voice Actor
In 1963, Kasem moved to Los Angeles where he continued his radio career with KRLA, while also pursuing a career in acting. His first screen appearance came in 1964 when he hosted a musical TV showed called Shebang. He appeared in several low budget films and had minor roles in various TV shows, including Hawaii 5-0 and Ironside. But it was his voice that was the key to his success. From 1968 to 1969, he provided the voice for Robin on The Batman/Superman Hour. Then in 1969, he received one of his more well-known roles as the voice of Shaggy on the cartoon, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. He continued in this role off and on with it various spinoffs and movies until 2009, though he left it briefly in the 1990's after being asked to voice Shaggy in a Burger King commercial, something he took issue with as a vegan and animal rights activist.
The Phenomenon Of 'American Top 40'
Radio remained his primary focus and, in 1970, he started his own radio show, American Top 40, in which he would countdown to the number one most popular song in the country. The show was a huge success and it was during this time that he came up with his motto, "Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars." American Top 40 lasted until 1988 when Kasem left ABC Radio Network and signed on with Westwood One to create a similar show called Casey’s Top 40 as well as two shorter versions entitled Casey’s Hot 20 and Casey’s Countdown. He continued to make television appearances during this time. From 1989 to 1998, he hosted Nick at Nite’s New Year’s Eve countdown, introducing the top reruns of the year. He also made cameo appearances on Saved by the Bell and ALF.
The Evolution Of Top 40
In 1998, Kasem regained the rights to American Top 40 and it aired on the AMFM Network, which was eventually acquired by Premiere Radio Networks. In 2003, he left American Top 40 but stayed with the network to produce the shorter version, American Top 20, which later became American Top 10, before being phased out completely in 2009. On the July 4 weekend of that year, Kasem retired from radio. He retired from voice acting the same year, with his final credited performance as Shaggy in Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword. He would go on to have a few uncredited roles, including the father of Shaggy in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated from 2010 to 2013. Throughout his career, Kasem received multiple honors including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1981, induction into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1992, and Billboard Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. At the 2003 Radio Music Awards, he was presented with the Radio Icon award.
Casey Kasem's Bizarre Final Days
Kasem married his first wife, Linda Myers, in 1972. They had three children together before their divorce in 1979. In 1980, he married actress Jean Thompson with whom he had one child and stayed with until his death. He was misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007, but in 2013, the diagnosis was changed to Lewy body dementia, a progressive form of dementia which caused him to be unable to speak near the end of his life. During his illness, his children from his first marriage and his second wife were in and out of court due to disputes over his care and visitation. He died on July 15, 2014, but the fighting among his family members continued with allegations of wrongful death, elder abuse, and infliction of emotional distress. As a result, his body was not laid to rest until December 16, 2014, when he was finally buried at Oslo Western Civil Cemetery, six months after his death.
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