The greater Los Angeles community mourned the death Sunday of world-famous radio host, actor and beloved pop culture icon Casey Kasem who is best known for his original “American Top 40” countdown show that spanned decades.
Kasem died at a Washington state hospital on Father's Day at age 82.
“Casey Kasem was the voice of my childhood,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday. “He was the person we all turned to to hear (song) dedications, whether it was (for) soldiers abroad or whether it was teenagers in love. He was America's voice so it's a huge loss for this country.”
Kasem had a “voice like butter” and a way about him that was so universal and inviting, Garcetti said. Less known about him — but equally important — is that he was also a social activist, he said.
“He really believed in peace and human rights and was very involved in social justice in our country,” said Garcetti, who noted that he and his wife, Amy, had the privilege of meeting Kasem on probably a couple of occasions. “He had his professional life but he was also committed to making America a better place for everybody, including the most disenfranchised, so it's a double loss for this country.”
Kasem co-created the “American Top 40” radio program in 1970, hosting the popular syndicated show that presented the most popular songs in America and its various versions for nearly four decades. The show is now hosted by radio and TV personality Ryan Seacrest. Kasem also was the voice of Scooby Doo's sidekick, Shaggy Rogers, on the “Scooby-Doo” cartoon for many years and once worked for the Los Angeles-based KRLA radio station.
Former L.A. County district attorney Gil Garcetti, the mayor's father, said the community was fortunate to have been able to enjoy Kasem for so many years. Gil said he was most struck by how down-to-earth Kasem was despite being such a well-known personality.
“There is no pretentiousness about him,” Gil Garcetti, today a consulting television producer, said. “There's a lot of humility there. He might say, ‘yeah, I might be a big personality but I'm a regular person.'”
Kasem took particular interest in one of Gil's top concerns as district attorney, domestic violence, and once spoke with him about how he could help break the chain of violence in families, he said.
Lori Stewart of Encino said she was saddened to hear of Kasem's death on Sunday and listened to the “American Top 40” show with Kasey Casem for years.
“We grew up of course listening to ‘keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars,' Stewart said, of his show's popular weekly sign off. “It was just a different time. It was nice. That's where you heard all the music.”
Kasem, who had dementia and had been out of the public eye for years, continues to hold a warm place in people's hearts because he represented a time when many listened to the same music, said Judy Muller, a professor of broadcast journalism at the USC Annenberg School.
“Today, iTunes, social media and the digital explosion of the music industry has rendered the whole idea of a ‘Top Forty' list of popular tunes rather quaint,” Muller said in an email. “And yet, whenever I tuned in to Kasem's weekly Top 40 countdown, I would stick with it, just to see what the top records would be. His show was a collective listening experience.”
Kasem, who was born in Detroit to Lebanese Druze immigrants, was very active in various Arab-American organizations and also supported the work of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR's greater Los Angeles area office.
“He certainly made it much easier for people who are from a Middle Eastern and especially an Arab background through his success and his pride in his heritage,” Ayloush said. “He saw the need, through his important role in society, to bring people together and promote mutual understanding.”
While Ayloush was growing up in Lebanon — which has a revered music scene of its own in the Arab world — he recalled that people there listened to Kasem's countdown shows and took great pride in the fact that Kasem was of Lebanese descent. His influence, however, was likely greater in the United States.
“At one point in America, anyone that cared about music or popular culture knew about Casey Kasem and admired him,” Ayloush said. “It helped normalize being an Arab-American.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.