The Groupies Who Wanted Casey Kasem Dead
The man who cemented his Hollywood star as the inventor of the American Top 40 was secretly ducking death threats from fanatics—and lovers of an art-rock band, too.
Radio icon Casey Kasem died hard and silent. He was gravely sick while his family was warring over facetime and launching lawsuits that remain open to this day. Criminal investigations are also still pending, leading to questions over the record hit maestro’s death was the result of foul play. But the longtime disc jockey also claimed devoted fans—and devoted enemies, as well. The Daily Beast has learned in a recent FBI document dump that Kasem, who cemented his Hollywood star as the inventor of the American Top 40, was secretly ducking death threats from a few fanatics—and at least one lover of an art-rock band, too.
Kasem’s posthumous legal fights remain contentious 10 months after he lost his struggle with the Lewy body dementia that left him bedridden and being fed through a tube in his stomach. His dire state had pitted his second wife against his grown-up kids from his first marriage, and the two sides duked it out publicly. Then the smooth DJ was taken from a senior home and secretly shuttled up to Washington state, where he passed away at 82. Since Kasem died, his multimillion-dollar estate has been the subject of civil and criminal inquiries over whether he was a victim of elder abuse.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office confirmed that Kasem’s case is still active. “Our office is reviewing the case presented to us by law enforcement,” the office said. “No decision has been made.”
Martha Geisler Patterson, who represents one of Kasem’s daughters, Kerri, told The Daily Beast that Kasem was “kidnapped” from the senior home. “He was not capable of resisting anybody, and he had no physical abilities to tell [his wife] no.’”
Patterson said that she, along with a private detective, submitted evidence to prosecutors.
“They haven’t told us they aren’t going to prosecute, but the material we gathered months ago and sent is being sat on by the DA,” she said. “The family is wondering what happened.”
Long before he was struck with the affliction, haters came at Casey Kasem—also known as the voice of Scooby-Doo’s Shaggy—with crank phone calls and fatal attraction letters. All felt entitled to a piece of the radio hotshot, who was making millions and at the top of the charts in his own right.
There was a heartbroken listener from St. Louis who was president of the Missouri chapter of the Casey Kasem Fan Club and also a federal employee who worked at the National Record Processing Center.
During the summer of 1980, the woman made a memorable visit to the Watermark Studio in Los Angeles. There, she tried to kiss Kasem during a photo shoot.
“During the picture session she attempted to kiss him but he backed away from her,” the FBI documents say. Kasem ordered his staff to make sure sure she was swiftly sent off in a cab back to the airport after the show’s taping.
The delusional Kasem devotee thought the radio man was in love with her.
But when the divorced Kasem walked down the aisle December 21, 1980, to say yes to the former Jean Thompson in a wedding officiated by Rev. Jesse Jackson, the listener felt she needed to prove her love.
She had a vicious way of showing it. She started writing letters on Christmas Eve in 1980 accusing Kasem of rape, alcoholism, and molesting his kids. “By the end of June or else—I’ll come out to California and kill you, your ‘wife’ and your three kids—this is a promise. I’ll do it too because I know where you work,” she wrote in one letter, found in the FBI trove.
She added, “a bullet through your heart will be first and then I’ll pour kerosene on your dead body and torch you until its charred.”
The feds didn’t have to look very hard to ID her because she included her return address on the postmarked envelope.
When questioned by authorities, the writer said she considered purchasing a pistol and taking Kasem out in homage to Mark David Chapman because she was “influenced by the shooting of John Lennon.” And she was convinced Kasem loved her. “She said she was in love with [Kasem],” the FBI said.
Extortion charges were never brought after the woman quickly confessed and pleaded with authorities that she was meeting with a priest and seeing a shrink in Granite City, Illinois.
In 1984, another fan from Mississippi wrote Kasem multiple letters asking him to play on his syndicated show a few songs by the fan’s favorite artists—Robert Ellis Orrall and Carleen Carter—in dedication to him. Kasem apparently didn’t go on air with the song dedications. The miffed Mississippi man, who had a prior arrest for carrying a knife, felt slighted.
In a series of disturbing screeds, the man fantasized about how the radio host could “di[e] of a heart attack,” “die in his sleep” or suffer from a nasty voodoo spell. He warned Kasem that he’d “better pray to god or Allah you Lebanese immigrant.” The man added: “I mean business. I am not fooling around at all. Someday you will see that.”
Kasem reached out to the feds a few months later, and they sent agents to the man’s house.
Agents quizzed the Mississippi man, who still lived with his parents, and he could barely form a sentence and also exhibited “a severe speech impediment.” He admitted he “had made a mistake with his choice of words” and explained “he would never hurt Casey Kasem.”
There were also crank calls.
A Bay Area experimental rock band called Negativland had created a track that mixed an expletive-filled Kasem rant at his staff for failing to cue up an upbeat song after he read the script for the obituary of Snuggles the dog.
The silky-smooth Kasem is in tear-jerking mode to introduce a Cincinnati man’s heartfelt request before exploding: “Recently there was a death in our family. He was a little dog named Snuggles…I want a goddamn concerted effort to come out of a record that isn’t a fucking uptempo record every time I gotta do a goddamn death dedication.”
Kasem’s voice was mixed into the track “U2” by the Berkeley-based Negativland. At the time, the band was dealing with a legal battle against multiple record companies, including U2’s Island Records for its sampling of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
Kasem pleaded with the artists to desist.
In a letter to the band on August 16, 1993, Kasem slammed Negativland for its “negative attitude” and asked the musicians if they would consider changing up their tune, asking, “How about changing your name and approach as well?” Kasem included in his correspondence a complimentary copy of “Norman Vincent Peale’s classic, The Power Of Positive Thinking. Pass it around; think about it.”
But Kasem wasn’t going to let the band reissue the comical track. “I don’t wish to change my position,” he wrote. He was also rattled. He wrote about how he was being shaken down to make sure the band’s music wasn’t inhibited by legal threats. “I should point out that your campaign has consistently painted me as some kind of bad guy standing in the way of your right to free speech…someone—taking your word for it—was probably likely to go further than you ‘expected’ in championing your cause.”
The fight took an even stranger turn on January 8, 1993. Kasem picked up the telephone that day, and when he said, “Hello,” the papers say, he got an earful. The male voice called Kasem a “fucking dickhead because of what he did to U2,” adding, “Kasem, I hate you. Fuck you.” But it also gave the radio host an ultimatum: “release Negativland”—meaning let the band reissue its record with his four-letter word outtakes—and “you better give the money back to [sic].”
Afterward Kasem agreed to let his phone line be tapped, FBI records show.
Soon enough agents traced a call to an Akron, Ohio, man who said he “became upset that Kasem who champions First Amendment rights, but refused to support those ideals when [Negativland] was involved.”
The settlement reached outside of court forced Negativland to refrain from getting rights to the record.
And the band abided by it.
When Kasem was succumbing to Lewy body dementia, a degenerative disease that mirrors Parkinson’s, Negativland uploaded all eight tracks of “U2” so fans could create their own mashup.
Band member Peter Conheim said the band did win over many passionate fans. But the musicians never advised them to try to threaten anybody.
“Our group got branded as pranksters, and we embraced that,” Conheim, 46, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview from California. “I think it’s likely that a fan could just pick up the mantle and do that.”
But Conheim today feels for Kasem and admits threats of any sort would have sunk their legal fight to win back their record.
“I don’t blame him for being scared.”