American Top 40 founding host Casey Kasem, who for nearly a half century counted down the hits on nationally syndicated radio and TV shows, invariably signed off with the words, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
Kasem, who died in Gig Harbor, Wash., on June 15 at age 82, had none of Wolfman Jack’s histrionics and could be a jarring contrast to the jadedness and rebellion of rock music. But maybe that’s why we liked him so much.
Here are 10 things you might not know about Kasem:
- He was born in Detroit, the son of Lebanese Druze immigrants, who named him Kemal Amen Kasem.
- Drafted into the U.S. Army at age 20, he scored his first job as a DJ for Armed Forces Radio during the Korean War.
- In 1964, Kasem himself had an unusual Top 40 hit of his own — “A Letter from Elaina,” in which, over an instrumental version of the Beatles’ “And I Love Her,” he read a letter from a girl who had hugged George Harrison.
- In 1965, American Bandstand host and TV producer Dick Clark gave Kasem his first big break: a job hosting a Los Angeles TV music show, Shebang. Here’s Kasem in 1967, introducing a then-unknown act, The Doors.
- Growing his syndicated show from seven stations in 1970 to more than 1,000 in 50 countries, according to People, Kasem modeled it after the 1940s radio program Your Hit Parade. The first song that he crowned No. 1 was Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me (Not to Come).”
- One of the most distinctive parts of Kasem’s repertoire was his “teaser and bio” intro for records. Cher, for example, was introduced as “a high school dropout and a runaway, with a mother who was married six times.”
- Before the advent of MTV, Kasem also pioneered the showing of rock music videos on his TV program America’s Top 10. Here’s a 1983 episode.
- Kasem also had a side career as a voice actor for animated cartoons. His best-known character was Shaggy, the perpetually hungry hippie in the long-running series Scooby-Doo. Here he is, doing his Shaggy voice on the MDA Telethon.
- During the first Gulf War in 1990, Kasem, who opposed U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, made headlines by decrying prejudice against Arabs and negative stereotypes of them. He also was an advocate for animal rights and better treatment for the homeless.
- Here is Kasem’s final broadcast in 2009, in which he reminisced about his career, noting that he had done more than 3,000 long-distance dedications.
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