June 18, 2014 - For more than three decades, his notable voice, countdown formats and dedications touched the airwaves in 50 countries.
The king of countdown with family ties in Goodrich and Fenton—who opened his show with, "This is Casey Kasem's American Top 40," died June 15 in a Gig Harbor, Wash. hospital.
He was 82.
"He has never forgotten his family," said Kasem's cousin, Joan Turner, a former Goodrich High School librarian who retired in 2005. "We grew up together. We are first cousins, Casey's mom and my dad are brother and sister. I remember our families getting together and sleeping on the floor in our sleeping bags together."
A Detroit native, Kasem spent summers in the Goodrich area. His aunt, Rosie Sefa, and mother, Helen Dow, owned Larry Hamady - Pure Food Market on North Leroy Street in Fenton.
"I can still hear his voice," said Turner, who worked at GHS for about 30 years. "He was the golden voice of Hollywood—I could always just call him and while I'd have to go through a receptionist, Casey would call me right back. Regardless of his fame, he was right down to Earth."
Joan's father, Fred Sefia, owned a grocery store in downtown Goodrich on Hegel Road for more than 40 years.
"He didn't always want to be a disc jockey. Casey originally wanted to be a baseball player and an actor. I remember Casey wanted to play for the Detroit Tigers," said Turner. "I don't think he was good enough."
"Casey worked in the store in the summers sometimes," Turner recalled. "When dad retired in 1981 we had a party at Goodrich High School in the cafeteria—it seemed like the whole town came to the gathering. Casey flew in and attended the party. I remember the ladies in the cafeteria getting their picture taken with Casey. Later, when dad was in the hospital, he flew in to see him—that's the type of person he was. Family was everything."
Turner said she remembers Kasem had spent about a year in Detroit doing radio when his career really started to take off.
"Even though he was so close to really making a name for himself, he decided to take a year off to help his aunt and mom run the grocery store," said Turner.
The last time Kasem came to the Goodrich area was in April 2008 to help promote a fundraiser for a $3.5-million cultural center to be added to the Fenton Community Center. He was interviewed by The Citizen newspaper during a visit to Turner's home in Grand Blanc.
Kasem doesn't think his voice is anything special.
"I always thought my voice sounded just like anyone else's," said Kasem during the interview.
His favorite generation of music, Kasem told The Citizen, was the '60s. "That generation of music had a little bit of everything. There was Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Ray Charles," he said.
It was American Bandstand's host, Dick Clark, that Kasem said gave him his first break.. "Dick was the producer of 'Shebang' back in 1964, when he hired me to be the host," said Kasem. "Gene Autry owned the show."
Through it all, Kasem believed it is his Lebanese descent and close family ties that have helped to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground.
In the 1950s, Kasem landed acting roles on national radio shows such as 'The Lone Ranger' and 'Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.' Kasem has been the voice of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo's sidekick, since the TV cartoon began in 1969. He also co-hosted Jerry Lewis' Labor Day Telethon since 1981. Kasem was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1992 and was the youngest member ever to be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. He has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and received the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award from Billboard Magazine in 1997. Kasem did his last broadcast of "American Top 40" on Jan. 4, 2004. Meanwhile, Ryan Seacrest, the host of "American Idol" on Fox television, has become the new host for "American Top 40."
Kasem's radio shows often ended with: "And don't forget, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."