Counting Down: a Tribute to Casey Kasem

Photo by Alan Light
Before the option of typing the name of any song into Google, the surest way to hear the hits of the day was on Sunday mornings. You would simply turn the radio station to American Top 40 and Casey Kasem would count the best tunes down from numbers 40 to one.

Between songs, he would spout out little known facts about the artists, the movement of the songs on the charts, and even recite long distance heartfelt song dedications between lovers, proud parents, or grieving pet owners.

Kasem who died this past Sunday had a timeless voice that continues to live on with rebroadcasts of the syndicated show American Top 40 - The 70's that can be heard locally on Magic 102.7 every Sunday morning 7 to 10 a.m. In honor of the man's passing here's a top 10 countdown of Casey Kasem's 82 years on this Earth.

Coming in at number 10, Casey was born Kemal Amen Kasem, the son of Lebanese immigrants who owned a grocery store in Detroit. Kasem said his oratory was influenced by "the Arabic tradition of storytelling one-upmanship."

Moving up the charts at number 9, Kasem started American Top 40 in 1970. In 1988, due to contract disputes, he left and started a rival show Casey's Top 40 before getting the original title back. Kasem continued to host American Top 40 until 2004 when he handed over the reins to Ryan Seacrest.

Number 8 is a long distance dedication to Kasem's wife of 34 years, Jean. The duo's 1980 marriage was officiated by Jesse Jackson. Jean was most famous for the role of Loretta Tortelli on the sitcom Cheers that turned into a lead role in the spin-off from that show The Tortellis which lasted all of 13 episodes. Like her husband, she also landed a cameo role in Ghostbusters.

This week's number 7 is... Casey Kasem once hoped to be an actor. He later got to stretch those acting muscles doing voice work for cartoons including playing Peter Cottontail, Batman's partner, Robin in Superfriends, Alexander Cabot III in Josie and the Pussycats and several characters in Transformers.

Number 6, we have Casey Kasem's most famous voice work as Shaggy in Scooby Doo. Kasem, a strict vegan quit the gig when they wanted to have him voice Shaggy for a Burger King ad. Kasem returned to voice the green shirted bohemian in 2002 only when producers agreed to make the character vegetarian.

Which brings us to number 5, where even though Kasem kept politics off of his radio show, he was a die hard liberal who tried to make a difference in the world. A supporter of political long shots like Dennis Kucinich, Jesse Jackson, and Ralph Nader, Kasem organized conflict-resolution workshops between Arabs and Jews. Beyond getting Shaggy to say no to factory farming, Kasem also used cartoon activism to increase diversity within the Transformers cartoon by leaving the show until they had a positive Arab character to counteract all the evil Arabs on the show.

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