Thursday, June 19, 2014

Casey Kasem R.I.P.

Disc jockey and voice artist Casey Kasem died on 15 June 2014 at the age of 82. He had been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2007. He had been in hospital for two weeks prior to his death. He was perhaps best known for his radio show American Top 40, which debuted in 1970, as well as being the voice of cartoon characters from Shaggy on Scooby Doo, Where Are You! to Robin on The Batman/Superman Hour and Super Friends.

Casey Kasem was born Kemal Amin Kasem on 27 April 1932 in Detroit into a Lebanese Druze immigrant family. He first worked in radio while attending Northwestern High School in Detroit as a sportscaster for the school radio station. At Wayne State University in Detroit he performed in various radio shows. In 1952 he was drafted into the United States Army where he served as a DJ for the Armed Forces Radio Network in Korea.

Following the Korea War he began his career in radio in Flint, Michigan. Over the years he worked in such markets as Detroit; Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, New York;  and Oakland, California. It was while he was in Oakland that he created a show that included short, biographical bits about musical artists before their songs. It would eventually lead to the radio show American Top 40..

It was in 1963 that Mr. Kasem moved to KRLA in Los Angeles. It was there that his career really began to take off. In 1964 he did his first voice work for cartoons, providing various voices for the prime time animated series The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. In 1965 he became the host of Shebang, a syndicated music show that ran until 1968. He made his film debut in The Glory Stompers (1967) and appeared in the films 2000 Years Later (1969), Wild Wheels (1969), The Cycle Savages (1969),  Scream Free! (1969), and The Girls from Thunder Strip (1970). He guest starred in the television show Garrison's Gorillas. He provided voices for the cartoons The Batman/Superman Hour (on which he was Robin), Cattanooga Cats; Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (on which he was Shaggy), Hot Wheels, Skyhawks, and Josie and the Pussycats (on which he was Alexander).

It was in 1970 that the radio show American Top 40 debuted. The show was essentially a countdown of the top 40 songs according to the Billboard singles chart, with biographical trivia about the artists before each song. The show proved to be a hit and Casey Kasem remained with it until 1988

In the Seventies Casey Kasem appeared in such films as The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971), Doomsday Machine (1972), Soul Hustler (1973), New York, New York (1977), Disco Fever (1978), and The Dark (1979). On television he was the voice of Peter Cottontail in the animated special Here Comes Peter Cottontail. He guest starred on such shows as The Dean Martin Comedy Hour, Hawaii Five-O, Ironside, Police Story, Quincy M.E., Switch, and Charlie's Angels. He provided voices for such cartoons as The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Super Friends, Hong Kong Phooey, Jana of the Jungle, and Battle of the Planets. Beginning in 1980 Mr. Kasem was the host of America's Top 10, essentially a television version of American Top 40. It ran until 1992, with Mr. Kasem as its host until 1989.

In the Eighties Casey Kasem continued to provide voices for the "Scooby-Doo" and "Super Friends" franchises, as well as the animated show The Transformers. He guest starred on such shows as Matt Houston, Fantasy Island, Mike Hammer, and My Two Dads. He appeared in the films Ghostbusters (1984). In 1988 he left American Top 40 in a contract dispute with ABC Radio. He launched another show Casey's Top 40.

In the Nineties he continued to voice Shaggy in various "Scooby-Doo" projects. He also provided voices for the animated TV series 2 Stupid Dogs and Captain Planet and the Planeteers. In 1998 he gained the rights to the American Top 40 name and relaunched the show. This incarnation lasted until 2009, with Mr. Kasem retiring in 2004. Into the Naughts he continued to voice Shaggy for various "Scooby-Doo" projects.

I have always thought Casey Kasem's success as a DJ stemmed from his sheer enthusiasm. Week after week, year after year, Mr. Kasem still conveyed that enthusiasm when announcing the latest top forty hits. That enthusiasm was not lost on listeners. Of course, there can be no doubt that much of his success was also due to his voice, a voice that was flexible enough to be that of Shaggy, Robin the Boy Wonder, or Alexander Cabot. For generations of Americans Casey Kasem was the voice that let them know what the latest hits were, and always did so with a sense of excitement and exuberance. 

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