When I was old enough to drive, I would go each Sunday morning to a bakery in a strip mall near our Illinois house, pick up two chocolate long johns, and turn into the winding driveway in front of our church. It was important to me to be able to make my own stops along the way, go at my own pace, listen to my own music. And always, every Sunday morning, my dial was turned to Casey Kasem as he took us through the weekly Top 40.
Kasem, born to Lebanese Druze (an offshoot of Shia Islam) parents in Detroit, Michigan, is one of America’s most beloved voices. He was not only my Sunday-morning car companion, but also voiced Shaggy in the Scooby Doo cartoon. His career as a voiceover actor has taken him onto late-night TV shows, dozens of commercials, and even a few appearances in front of the camera as Jerry Lewis’s telethon cohost for 22 years. The Druze religion, passed on to Kasem by his parents, was born in the eleventh century in a split over the divinity of a caliph named Hakim. It is a secretive religion, practiced only by one to two million people and passed on through birth; never conversion. Kasem has always had a strong connection to his Lebanese roots.
And now, Casey Kasem is missing.
Last year, Kasem’s daughter (with first wife Linda Myers) Kerri revealed that the former DJ is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Kerri and her siblings claim that Kasem’s wife, Jean, is keeping them from seeing their father. “I’ve got a feeling I might not see him again, and that’s why I’m here,” his brother Mouner told ABC News last October. For her part, Jean hasn’t responded to the claims.
But just this week, a Los Angeles judge ordered an investigation into Kasem’s whereabouts when his children were unable to locate him. “I have no idea where he is,” said Craig Marcus, an attorney for Jean Kasem. But he is “no longer in the United States.” Judge Daniel S. Murphy said that Marcus’s statements concerned him, and ordered an attorney to look into Kasem’s location. Murphy also granted temporary conservatorship to Kerri Kasem, who has accused Jean of elder abuse for keeping Kasem isolated from his friends and family members. Back in December, Kasem’s former caretaker Hilda Loza won a $10,000 suit against Jean for verbal abuse and emotional distress, including false accusations of theft and insults about her cooking.
Up until a few months ago, Kasem was the most prominent member of the Druze religion in America; until word came that he shares that religion with George Clooney’s fiancée Amal Alamuddin. Kasem’s religion has shaped both his worldview and, allegedly, his will — of which his three children with Myers are not a part (“My dad told us a long time ago we were not in the will, and we’re OK with that,” Kerri said last year). Whether the Druze are actually Muslim is a contested topic, not unlike the ongoing question of whether Mormonism falls under the umbrella of Christianity. The Druze faith is a complex combination of Islam and gnosticism, with a history of assimilating into their new homelands.
This is exactly what Kasem did. He supported Jesse Jackson’s presidential bids, hosted charity balls and gave to organizations fighting homelessness, and was named “Man of the Year” by the American Druze Society in 1996. He wrote touchingly about his son Mike who, at twelve years old, proclaimed that he hated Arabs because of the stereotypes he observed on movies and television. “Seventy years ago The Sheik began to create the idea in Americans that all Arabs were knife-wielding, gun-toting womanizers and not to be trusted,” Kasem told People Magazine in 1990. “That’s not the kind of mind-set that is healthy for the world.”
For protesting against some of Israel’s political and military tactics, Kasem has been dragged through the mud by some right-wingers. “No tears for Anti-American, Anti-Israel Creep Casey Kasem” wrote conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel when Kasem’s Parkinsons diagnosis was announced. “Karma is a bitch.” And perhaps it is, although the notion of karma wouldn’t jive with Kasem’s Druze faith.
“I believe my father’s wife fled the country (or possibly went to an Indian Reservation) with my Dad because she knew I would win in court today,” Kerri Kasem wrote on her Facebook page yesterday. “Please pray that he is safe.”