When I first started this column I proposed the banner, “Laughing Matters,” which seemed appropriate for a space in which I would get to share with what I think is funny about life, especially in Santa Monica. But in these past 400 weeks (good grief, can it be that long?) occasionally I’ve come across a story in which there is no humor and yet I think important enough to bring to your attention. This is one of those stories, and while there are no laughs, in the darkness one very strong woman has found something of a silver lining.
This past Sunday in Santa Monica featured a celebration marking the 82nd birthday of the legendary and much beloved radio personality and voice actor Casey Kasem. Known for hosting the nationally syndicated “Top 40”countdown show, Kasem had a staggering body of voice over work including for NBC, “Sesame Street” and playing Shaggy in the Saturday morning cartoon franchise “Scooby-Doo.”
While Kasem also did a myriad of commercials, TV and even movies, it was music on the radio (and perhaps his vast charity work) for which Kasem will always be remembered. Anybody in America who grew up in the 1970’s until 2009 when Kasem retired, will likely have been touched by him. Kasem’s signature sign-off, known by generations, was, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
Fittingly, Kasem received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1981 and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1992. But now, unfortunately, he is quite ill, battling Parkinson’s disease as a patient at Berkley East Convalescent Hospital here in Santa Monica.
Even sadder, his birthday celebration had to take place outside Berkley East as, inexplicably, Kasem’s adult children are barred from seeing their father by their stepmother and Kasem’s wife of 33 years (and their stepmother) Jean Kasem. So are Kasem’s brother and his many friends of 60 years or more. Why anyone would do that is mind-boggling. (As of press time, Mrs. Kasem hadn’t returned my voice mails.)
Hearing this story some might mistakenly assume Kasem’s fortune, estimated at $80,000,000, is part of the motivation for his children. But the three, Kerri, 41, Mike 40 and Julie, 38, are all successful in their own lives. “We don’t want his money and we don’t want his estate, “ Kerri says plaintively, “All we want is to see our dad, to love him and take care of him before he dies.”
Having an ailing parent in the final stage of his/her life is painful enough but for an adult child not to be allowed to know from day to day how the parent is doing seems unconscionable. You’d think there would be relief in our court system but you’d be wrong. (Although, thanks to Kerri, that may change.)
While divorced parents, and even grandparents, can avail the court system for visitation rights, for adult children there is no legal precedent. Thus Kerri, who used to talk to her father daily, hasn’t been able to visit him in over six months.
The dire situation has prompted Kerri to go public with her plight. But, rather than being filled with anger or feeling a victim, Kerri has worked tirelessly in the hope that this might not happen to others.
Dedicated and determined (traits Kerri attributes to her father) remarkably she has persuaded her Assemblyman, Michael (Mike) Gatto of the 43rd District, to introduce a bill in the California state legislature to allow adult children to petition the court for visitation with their parents. Passage appears quite likely but there’s little chance it will be in time to help Kerri and her siblings. She takes comfort, however, in the notion that the bill will help others in a similar plight.
Given the troubling circumstances, Casey’s birthday celebration was surprisingly uplifting and not just because of cake and balloons. Kerri was determined that her father “Wouldn’t be alone for this milestone.”
With her mother, Linda Kasem Naylor, and friends by her side, and so many of Kasem’s friends in attendance, the party was as spiritual as it was festive. A friend of Casey’s for decades, Gonzalo Venecia, led the group in a beautiful Native American prayer which typified an inspiring day of positive energy.
As I close, and at the risk of sentimentality, I can’t help but be reminded of Kasem’s immortal sign-off. In my youth, I must have heard it a hundred times as I listened to Countdown. “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Don’t worry, next week I’ll go back to the jokes.
To learn more on this subject go to kasemcaresfoundation.org. Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or firstname.lastname@example.org.