Casey Kasem, who built a personal empire by way of his voice, which he lent to radio, voice over work, and on-camera hosting, died on Sunday at a hospital in Gig Harbor, WA, reports The New York Times. He was 82. The Detroit-born Kasem had long been suffering from Lewy body dementia.
From the voice of the scruffy kid friendly hippie Shaggy on Scooby Doo, who had more in common with his canine titular character — dumb, wide-eyed, and lucky — to his own long-running radio and television program America’s Top 40, in which he implored us to “keep our feet on the ground and to keep reaching for the stars” while regaling us with that current week’s top 40 pop songs on radio, Kasem had a sort of angular, trampoline style to his voice, an instantly tenfold recognizable aural patter. His vocal patterns almost in a way set the template for what a radio DJ styled host should be with his inflections and pauses in his speech patterns, and carved a niche in radio not seen since its early days of domination by luminaries of the medium like Jack Benny or Edward R. Murrow.
While Kasem was neither of those –his only skill really was his voice and how it was used — he was still high in demand and his radio work transcended to other forms of the medium and like Benny and Murrow, and was employed gainfully throughout his career because of it. Also lending his vocal talents to Saturday Morning animated fare like Josie and the Pussycats and Superfriends, Kasem was able to span generations at once and most everybody in America knew who he was, and either listened to him in some form, or had seen him on television in some manner. He was in a way like a radio version of Dick Clark, another genial, high-shelf presence who had his finger on the pulse and grip of the music scene, and then in television. And like Clark, Kasem was a titan in his field who will be missed.
Kasem is survived by his wife of 34 years, actress Jean Kasem (best know for her role as Loretta Tortelli on the TV’s Cheers), his four children, and four grandchildren. In his final months, Kasem’s three children from a previous marriage, who he had designated as his legal healthcare proxies, and Kasem’s wife were in a legal court battle. Kasem had stipulated that he did not want to be kept alive if he “lost all cognitive function and was given no hope of recovery” and it was this directive that his children were trying to enforce, but his wife was fighting against.
There’s a silence that is now in the pop culture world that is deafening. Casey Kasem was an American institution, one that in a way no one really realized, but it was true one hundred percent. The void left in his passing will solidify that platitude tenfold.