On July 4, Casey Kasem counted down the hits one last time. Thirty-nine years to the day after he premiered his American Top 40 program playing the most popular songs, calling out listeners’ long-distance dedications and paving the way for the American Top 20 and American Top 10 spin-offs the velvet-throated DJ with the unmistakable voice has turned off his mike for good. “Hosting various versions of my countdown program has kept me extremely busy, and I loved every minute of it,” Kasem, 77, said in a statement. “However, this decision will free up time I need to focus on myriad other projects.”
What is perhaps most remarkable about Mr. Radio’s decision to abdicate the broadcasting throne is the fact that he held onto it for so long a stretch during which he weathered technological upheaval, receding ratings and splintering musical tastes. Kasem has always transcended industry trends: he created American Top 40 in 1970 when the genre was said to be dying, and embraced corniness as Vietnam-era cynicism peaked. Through 2,000 cartoon episodes, 10,000 commercials and nearly four decades of radio hits, he has maintained his signature earnest style. “I’m Casey Kasem,” he crooned July 4. “Now, one more time, the words I’ve ended my show with since 1970: Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
Born Kemal Amin Kasem on April 27, 1932, the son of a Lebanese grocer father and a Lebanese-American mother.
As a boy, dreamed of growing up to play professional baseball.
Made his radio debut as a member of the radio club at Northwestern High School in Detroit, where he covered sports.
Was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952 and deployed to Korea, where he found success as an announcer and DJ on the Armed Forces Radio Korea Network.
Introduced his famous “teaser and bio” feature as an announcer in Oakland, Calif., in 1962, after finding a magazine called Who’s Who in Pop Music in a trash can and reading to his audience the facts inside.
Moved to the Los Angeles radio station KRLA in 1963 so that he could be near Hollywood and pursue a career in acting as well as radio. Went on to appear in several movies, including The Girls from Thunder Strip , The Glory Stompers , Scream Free! , 2000 Years Later , The Cycle Savages and The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant .
Caught Dick Clark’s eye while hosting live television dance hops in L.A., and in 1964 was asked to host Shebang, a daily musical television show that Clark was producing.
In 1969, voiced the affable hippie Shaggy on the cartoon show Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, perhaps his best-loved turn as a cartoon voice-over star. Relinquished the role in 1995 in a dispute over a Burger King commercial but returned in 2002 when it was agreed that Shaggy would be a vegetarian like Kasem.
In 1970, along with Don Bustany, a Hollywood movie producer and childhood friend, proposed a countdown radio show modeled after the 1940s program Your Hit Parade. Hosted the first installment of American Top 40 on July 4, 1970.
Married singer-actress Linda Myers in 1972. The couple had three children before divorcing in 1979.
Married his current wife, Jean, a Cheers alumna, in 1980. The Rev. Jesse Jackson officiated. In 1990, after suffering eight miscarriages, the couple had a daughter, Liberty Jean Kasem.
In 1980, introduced his best-known television show, America’s Top 10, which was broadcast in syndication for a decade.
Awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1981.
A longtime antiwar lobbyist and advocate for animals and the homeless, he traces his advocacy of Arab-American causes to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Played himself in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters.
Left American Top 40 in 1989 over a salary dispute and started his own program, Casey’s Top 40, which was reportedly picked up by 400 stations before airing its first episode.
Ran into controversy in 1991 when a CD was released that included profane remarks he had made on tape dismissing the band U2. “This is b——-,” he said. “Nobody cares. These guys are from England and who gives a s—‘”
Inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1992.
Passed the American Top 40 microphone to Ryan Seacrest in 2004.
“It’s not a clear-toned announcer’s voice … It’s more like the voice of the guy next door.”
On the appeal of his husky voice.
“When we first went on the air, I thought we would be around for at least 20 years. I knew the formula worked. I knew people tuned in to find out what the No. 1 record was.”
On the appeal of American Top 40.
“I feel good that you can be going to synagogue or church and listen to me, and nobody is going to be embarrassed by the language that I use, the innuendo. It’s just not my style … Quite frankly, I think we’re good for America.”
On his family-friendly radio style.
“Casey can sense when a story isn’t going to work for him. He talks about himself in the third person he’ll say, ‘That’s not a story Casey would tell.’ He has a very strong concept of who this character is that he’s spent so many years creating.”
Merrill Shindler, a writer for American Top 40 and Casey’s Top 40, on Kasem’s radio persona.
“The magic of Casey is that he is the ultimate professional in whatever he does … He enlightens, he explores, he suggests, he provokes, and he informs.”
Radio and TV personality Gary Owens, who worked with Kasem in the early 1980s for an annual UNICEF radio drama.
See TIME’s Pictures of the Week.