Casey Kasem, an iconic voice of radio and television for decades, lies critically ill in a Washington state hospital, while his three children from his first marriage fight with their stepmother, Jean Kasem, in court and the media for control of his final days.
A Los Angeles judge reversed his own decision Wednesday and gave daughter Kerri Kasem the authority to have doctors end his infusions of water, food and medicine.
Kasem’s doctor concluded that continuing the artificial nutrition and hydration would only “at best prolong the dying process for him and will certainly add suffering to an already terribly uncomfortable dying process,” said Kerri Kasem’s lawyer, Troy Martin.
“The court’s decision today upheld our father’s explicit wishes as expressed by him in his health directive,” Kerri Kasem said in a statement after the hearing. She was referring to a directive her father signed in 2007, saying he would not want to be kept alive if it “would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope for normal functioning.”
An attorney for Jean Kasem, Steve Haney, slammed the judge’s decision, calling it “the functional equivalent of a death sentence.”
“Nobody wants Mr. Kasem to die,” Martin said. “The fact is that he is dying from sepsis and dementia.”
The public battle — always emotional and sometimes bizarre — began in October 2013 when daughters Julie and Kerri led a protest outside of Kasem’s Los Angeles mansion, holding signs demanding that their stepmom let them see their ailing father. When confronted earlier this month in Washington state, a rep for one of the daughters said, Jean Kasem tossed raw hamburger meat toward one of her stepchildren, saying she was throwing the meat at “the dogs.”
The dispute is about love, Kasem’s oldest daughters said. His wife of 33 years argued it’s about Kasem’s fortune, built over four decades of radio and television voice work.
Reaching for the stars
Kasem’s voice counted down the “American Top 40” hits each week for nearly four decades in a radio show heard around the world. He voiced the cartoon character Shaggy on “Scooby-Doo” cartoons for 40 years. He was the voice of the NBC television network for years. He narrated thousands of radio and television commercials during his career.
He divorced his first wife when his daughters and son were young. He remarried in 1980, to Jean, a 26-year-old actress best known for a recurring role on TV’s “Cheers” series. The couple have a daughter together, Liberty Kasem, now a 24-year-old aspiring singer.
Kasem became the world’s best-known radio host as his syndicated shows grew in popularity and distribution through the 1970s and 1980s. His famous signoff was “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” He finally handed off his duties to Ryan Seacrest in 2004.
He retired from hosting and voice work in 2009, two years after a doctor diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease, a diagnosis that was later changed to Lewy body dementia, which has no cure, according to court documents.
Planning for the end
After Kasem was told he had Parkinson’s in 2007, he signed a document giving his oldest children authority to make his medical decisions if he should become unable to do so himself.
The power of attorney statement signed by Kasem on November 11, 2007, included a declaration that he did not want to be kept alive with “any form of life sustaining procedures, including nutrition and hydration” if it “would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope of normal functioning.”
This document, which snubbed Kasem’s wife, set the stage for the legal battle that would erupt six years later as his health deteriorated and his children accused the stepmother of shutting them out of their father’s life. It would serve as a legal basis for his daughter to have doctors discontinue infusions of water, food and medicine.
‘Let Casey see his kids’
Kasem’s oldest daughters took to the streets of the exclusive Holmby Hills community in early October 2013 to publicly demand that their stepmother allow them to see their father. Kerri Kasem told reporters that Jean Kasem had kept them away for the previous three months and she was worried about his health.
“I don’t get it, I don’t understand it,” she told CNN. “He has Parkinson’s, and all the research we’ve done indicates socialization would help him.”
About a dozen people who said they were friends of Kasem joined the daughters in the sign-waving demonstration at the entrance to the Kasem estate. “Let Casey see his kids,” one sign read. His younger brother, Mouner Kasem, flew to Los Angeles from Michigan to hold a sign that read: “I miss my brother”.
“He can’t really speak, but he knows we’re there,” Kerri Kasem told a TV reporter covering the protest. “And last time we saw him, he could shuffle a little bit. He had a hard, very hard, time walking. He was just deteriorating due to Parkinson’s disease.”
Daughter Julie Kasem and her husband, a cardiologist, filed a petition in court days later asking a judge to give them control of Kasem’s medical care. Los Angeles County Superior Judge Lesley Green appointed an investigator to report on Kasem’s condition. The judge ruled in November that he was being well cared for by his wife and denied the daughter’s request for a medical conservatorship.
Jean Kasem’s lawyer defended her decision to keep the stepchildren away in a court filing in November. “For reasons they know all too well, their presence at this stage would be toxic and extremely distressing for Casey, Jean and their daughter, Liberty, who have had enough of their cruelty.”
Julie and her brother Mike Kasem reached a confidential agreement with their stepmother in December that allowed them to visit their father, although Kerri Kasem refused.
She talked to CNN Piers Morgan in December about the dispute. “It’s like, take the person that you love most on Earth, know that they’re sick, know they want to see you, you get 20 minutes with them before being ripped away by an armed guard and having them say ‘please stay’ and you can’t.”
Kerri Kasem started the Kasem Cares Foundation with the goal of “supporting visitation rights of adult children with an ailing parent.”
Casey Kasem ‘missing’
The Kasem family feud took a bizarre twist in May when Kerri Kasem accused her stepmother of removing her father from a Santa Monica nursing home and leaving the country — or at least California — to avoid a court order giving Kerri Kasem control over his medical decisions.
“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 said in a Facebook post. “The judge ordered, Adult Protective Services, the PVP Attorney and the police to look for him. Please pray that he is safe.”
His daughters filed a missing persons report with police, triggering an interstate lookout for Kasem. Sheriff’s deputies in Kitsap County, Washington, located him at a friend’s home there a day later. After staying 40 minutes and determining that Kasem was alert, not in distress and was receiving appropriate care, the deputies left.
Los Angeles County Superior Judge Daniel Murphy temporarily expanded Kerri Kasem’s powers over her ailing father at a May 24 hearing. The judge also said that the famed radio countdown host “cannot travel anywhere without a court order and until the doctor examines him and gives him clearance for a journey,” the court spokeswoman said.
‘Shame on these children’
Jean Kasem faced off with her stepchildren in a Kitsap County court on May 30, a hearing that ended with Kerri Kasem getting a judge’s approval to visit her father for an hour. The judge also gave Kerri Kasem authority to take him to a doctor.
“I’m not going to say anything much except that I’m happy with how the court proceedings went today,” she said.
“Shame on these children,” Jean Kasem told reporters after the hearing. She then played an audio recording of what sounded like a groaning man, saying the moaning came from her husband when he heard about the court activity. “He’s crying,” she said.
Meat for ‘the dogs’
Jean Kasem’s anger at her stepchildren boiled over as paramedics arrived at the home in western Washington where she and her husband were staying to carry him to a hospital on June 1. She initially appeared to refuse to let paramedics into the home, a video showed.
As her ailing husband was loaded into an ambulance, she stormed down a driveway and tossed a package of hamburger meat near Kerri Kasem.
While referring to King David of the Bible, she said she was throwing the meat at “the dogs.” Kerri Kasem’s rep provided cell phone video of the incident to CNN.
Kasem was admitted to St. Anthony Hospital, where he was treated with antibiotics through IVs, blood pressure support medicine and care for his bed sores, hospital spokesman Scott Thompson said. His condition was listed as critical.
Jean Kasem’s lawyer filed a declaration in the Kitsap County court on June 4 attacking Kerri Kasem, claiming she is a member of the Church of Scientology. The daughter’s rep denied she has ever been a Scientologist.
Preparing to say goodbye
All of Kasem’s children, his brother and his wife gathered at St. Anthony’s Hospital on Friday, preparing to say goodbye. Kasem “won’t be with us much longer,” said Danny Deraney, the rep for Kerri Kasem.
Despite their bitter squabble, Kerri Kasem said the children from his first marriage wanted their stepmother and half-sister to be with them as it seemed his last moments were nearing.
“If he opens his eyes, I want my dad just once to see everyone standing around him, putting our differences aside and let him know how much he is loved by everyone, including Jean and Liberty,” she said.
Any family unity was shattered by Monday, when Jean Kasem appeared in a Los Angeles court to ask a judge to order Kasem’s doctors to resume his water, nutrition and medication infusions. The judge agreed.
Her lawyer accused Kasem’s daughter of trying to hasten her father’s death by having the infusions stopped over the weekend. Attorney Steve Haney called Kerri Kasem “a godless woman” who said her motive for speeding up her father’s death was financial. Kerri Kasem “could cash in immediately” on her share of a $2 million life insurance policy when he dies, he said.
Kerri Kasem was in Washington with her father Monday and not at the hearing, but her lawyer defended her.
“I think Kerri has conducted herself in a way that demonstrates she’s solely concerned about the health of her father,” attorney Troy Martin said.
Murphy reconsidered his decision at a hearing Wednesday. He restored Kerri Kasem’s authority to have doctors remove her father’s water, food and medicine infusions. He said his decision was based on a review of Kasem’s medical records.
“For the last 11 days, our father has been surrounded day and night by love and care by his daughters Kerri and Julie, his son Mike, his brother Mouner and sister-in-law Mary, and his dear friend Gonzalo Venecia,” Kerri’s rep said in a statement to CNN Wednesday. “We continue to hope that Jean and Liberty will come join his family during this time.”