Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

MGS Chat: Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem’s friendly, ‘crackling’ voice style has taken him to the top of his profession. The man, who once dreamed of being a baseball player but ended up as a radio sports announcer in high school, has since become an honored inductee to five halls of fame.

Millions of fans from across the globe find the name Casey Kasem synonymous with musical countdowns. Casey set the standard for all countdown shows with his legendary weekly program American Top 40. Now celebrating his 35th year doing countdowns, Casey continues his unique style as host of several top radio shows.

Throughout his career, Casey has also worked as a character actor in films and TV shows, was the voice of NBC for five years, as well as countless voice-over commercials and Saturday morning cartoon shows, and in particular the character Shaggy on Scooby-Doo.

Born in Detroit to Lebanese parents, Casey has employed the ethics given to him as a child to become involved in many social and humanitarian causes, from vegetarianism and anti-smoking campaigns to anti-discrimination projects and more. Days after an exclusive photo shoot where father and daughter interacted in their first professional photo shoot, we spent a few moments to catch up with the entertainment icon.

MEDIA GUY: Metaphorically, is there a bridge that the community needs to cross to make it in the United States?

CASEY KASEM: The United States is a special country. People who have talent and are educated will find it easier to succeed. There was never a negative to being an Arab American. It may be more difficult with those speaking with an accent. I never encountered prejudice in school or my career.

MG: What ideals or aspects of the Middle Eastern culture and heritage carried through to your lifestyle? Ultimately, which of these have been carried on by Kerri?

CK: Hospitality. My mother was a wonderful cook having people over to the house and entertaining all the time. Kerri loves to entertain and it is always around food. We both love Lebanese food and frequent a restaurant called Carnival here in Los Angeles.

MG: What are the principles that you passed to Kerri?

CK: I would say hard work and discipline. This business can be very tough and it is up to an individual to carve his or her own path. Kerri certainly has worked very hard from the ground up, she’s a self-starter. She started as a radio station intern and is now a successful radio and TV personality – her career was certainly not handed to her. She’s learned the secret to success. The secret to success is ten two letter words: if it is to be, it is up to me.
MG: What key piece of advice given to you as you started your own career.
CK: When I first achieved success and was moving up, I started to gain a little attitude. My boss at the time told me, “You are going to make it. But, you can make the hard way or the easy way. Make it the easy way: Be a nice person.” Since then I am reminded of his advice daily.

MG: What is one thing you wish you would have done growing up?

CK: My family spoke Arabic and English. I regret not learning Arabic.

MG: Why did you feel such a need to be so active with charities?
CK: I feel I should give back because I’ve been so lucky. If one is looking for inspiration, you need not look further than Danny Thomas. He was also Lebanese and did amazing things with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Starting in 1981, I was asked by the Muscular Dystrophy Association to co-host Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day Telethon and have been doing that ever since. I am very proud of my work with the ADC that carries the mission of anti-discrimination for our community. AAI, the Arab American Institute, continues to update and publish a speech I gave about ten years ago that highlights contributions Arab Americans have made to society. The brochure is called Arab Americans: Making a Difference.

Originally published in ALO magazine.