So while we were all enjoying Father’s Day this past Sunday, Casey Kasem, legendary DJ and voice actor, died at the age of 82.
Kasem was famous first and foremost as the creator and longtime host of American Top 40, the nationally syndicated radio show that counted down the Top 40 songs from the Billboard charts. Although he stepped down in 2009 (having reduced the show to American Top 10 and passed the reins to Ryan Seacrest), it is in this role that he’s best remembered. An absolutely beautiful piece went up on NPR remembering him in just that context.
But I’m more familiar with Kasem for his other career as one of the biggest voice actors of all time. Beginning with the original 1960s and continuing until 2009, Kasem attained pop culture immortality as Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. As the New York Times noted, Kasem said in an interview that “They’ll be showing Shaggy and Scooby-Doo for eons and eons.” Certainly, he’s great in the role, no matter which incarnation, managing to make his voice the virtual opposite of itself for Shaggy. It’s a great role indeed.
But Kasem did a lot of other work too, all of it inexorably tied to a certain cartoon beloved by kids of a certain age. If you grew up in the 1970s, you knew him as Robin from the various iteration of Superfriends. If you were a ’80s kid, you know him as Cliffjumper and Teletraan 1 from the original Transformers cartoon.
A note about that 2nd one: Kasem, a child of Lebanese immigrants (real name Kemal Amin Kasem), actually walked away from Transformers after an episode aired with heavy anti-Arab sentiment and Arab caricatures. A vegetarian, Kasem also temporarily stopped voicing Shaggy for a few years after he was asked to play the part for a Burger King commercial, only returning when declaring that Shaggy be made vegetarian too.
Walking away from some high-profile gigs like that take an ample amount of courage. Kasem had that in spades. He was also full of tremendous talent, able to bury his recognizable, unmistakable radio voice in a variety of wonderful ways.
I used to want to be a voice actor when I was younger and watching Kasem play Shaggy on TV was definitely a huge part of that. So farewell, Mr. Kasem. You will be missed.