Tracing Casey Kasem's strange, sad final days

Tracing Casey Kasem’s sad, strange final days

Mark Lepage tracks the gothic tale of a radio icon, the private investigator assigned to follow him, and the widow postponing the DJ’s final rest

Kim Kulish/Corbis

Kim Kulish/Corbis

This past summer, while the online tabloids were puzzling over the whereabouts of recently deceased radio legend Casey Kasem, his body turned up in the unlikeliest of spots: a Montreal funeral home. The local press could find no Québécois connection to Kasem, which led everyone to wonder: why? And how?

By then, the drawn-out ugliness surrounding Kasem’s last days—released in the wee hours from the California nursing home where he’d spent much of the past year, ill with advanced Parkinson’s and dementia; driven across state lines to Las Vegas; flown to Washington state, whereabouts and condition then unknown—had already been TMZ fodder for months. Where was he? Why had his wife removed him from a home, only to transport him around the country in his fragile state? And then, what happened when, five weeks later, Kasem died? The bizarre circumstances around all of it seemed deeply inappropriate, given the nature of the man’s life. The answer to those questions is the peculiarly American horror story of: a beloved radio icon; his widow, a former TV actress; his grieving, angry daughter; a private detective; a disappearing body and a ghoulish post-mortem cross-continental tour.

Casey Kasem was, through the latter half of the 20th century, an iconic, if anodyne, presence in American culture: an announcer for Armed Forces Radio during his stint in the Korean war, a dance-hop DJ in the ’60s, and co-founder of the American Top 40 syndicated radio show in 1970. He played pop hits in the album-rock era, drawing listeners in with homespun biographies of the artists in the countdown to the No. 1 song. His catchphrase was characteristically Hallmark-card-like: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” He voiced Shaggy in Scooby-Doo. A liberal, a vegan, a gentle guy.

But his last chapter is the weird finale in a story that saw years of animosity between his second wife, Jean, and the kids from his first marriage: daughters, Kerri and Julie, and son, Mike. Jean Kasem—you might remember her as Loretta Tortelli, the bubbleheaded blond wife of Carla’s ex-husband Nick in Cheers—seems to have had no relationship with her adult stepchildren, from the get-go. In past interviews, Kerri claimed the kids weren’t invited to the 1980 wedding, when Jean was then 24 years old and their father 47. It should be pointed out, on the flip side, that the Casey-Jean marriage was no fly-by-night affair: It lasted 34 years, until his death, a relationship that took him to age 82 and her to 57, and produced a daughter, Liberty Jean, now 23.

No one knows why Jean removed her husband from Berkeley East Convalescent Hospital in Santa Monica at 2 a.m. on May 7. Kerri, 42— a former UFC host, actress and current L.A. radio personality who broke into public life as an MTV Asia VJ—took the lead in voicing her family’s concerns to media. She alleged that Jean was hiding Casey from his friends and family. Kerri hired Logan Clarke, a private investigator in Huntington Beach, Calif., whose clients—including showbiz types—seek him out for tasks including finding and “extracting” kidnap victims, and “fugitive recovery.”

Photo illustration by Sarah Mackinnon

Photo illustration by Sarah Mackinnon

In a story with many outsized characters, Clarke is no exception. Renowned for his work against human trafficking, he’s a detective with 27 years experience who’s been cited as the kind of guy Bogie would play and Dashiell Hammett would write. In an interview, he notes that when Jean removed Casey from the Santa Monica convalescent home, Casey had a feeding tube surgically implanted in his stomach. “Her attorney told her a court order was coming down the next day, granting medical conservatorship to Kerri,” Clarke says. This is confirmed by a letter from the medical board to the Santa Monica Office of Criminal Investigations, which states that Jean came in and checked Casey out against medical advice, refusing to sign the requisite release documents. She also “disconnect[ed] his G-tube,” the letter notes, “which provided his only source of nutrition and hydration. She was informed of the risks of doing so and was told she was placing Mr. Kasem in great bodily harm or possible demise.”

From there, says Clarke, Jean loaded her husband into a separate SUV and had him driven from Santa Monica to Las Vegas, a four-hour drive. The PI is not shy about voicing his feelings about that decision. “This woman has access to $80 million and she doesn’t fly him there?” he asks incredulously. As has been widely reported, Jean would indeed then fly with her husband to Kitsap County in Washington state. Here, Clarke claims an ambulance driver, called to transport Kasem from the airport to a friend’s home, was so concerned about the possibility of elder abuse that he filed a protective-services complaint. An L.A. judge then overruled a May 12 judgment in favour of Jean and granted Kerri immediate medical conservatorship of her father.

Money was likely not among Jean Kasem’s motivations; she reportedly already had access to her husband’s fortune. Jean Kasem did not respond to numerous interview requests for this story by email and phone. In fact, she hasn’t spoken to media since the June 1 incident when Kerri, armed with the new ruling, picked up her father at the Washington house with an ambulance to take him to the hospital, only to have Jean hurl a package of raw hamburger toward her and reporters present and pronounce: “In the name of King David, I throw a piece of raw meat to you, to the dogs, to the dogs”—a scene reported with glee by the tabloids. Ambulance attendants did take Casey to a hospital in nearby Gig Harbor, where the feuding families could visit him, thanks to separate visitation times mandated by the judge.

In the midst of all this, Casey Kasem was dying, and did so on June 15, of sepsis. Jean had his body taken to a nearby funeral home, where he remained for a month until, in mid-July, Kerri obtained a restraining order to prevent Jean from having the body cremated and to request a second autopsy—but, by then, Casey Kasem was already at Urgel Bourgie funeral home in Montreal.

Maclean’s efforts to contact the Urgel Bourgie funeral home were unsuccessful. A secretary at the complex said the president, Yvan Rodrigue, was “the only person who could make a statement” on how and why, and even if, Casey’s body had arrived. But Rodrigue couldn’t be reached for comment.

The question, of course, is what connection did Jean even have with Montreal in the first place? Clarke claims to have an answer. “JP Gressy. Her boyfriend,” he says.

John Paul Gressy, a Montrealer, once tried to launch a jeans company called Dungarees U.S.A. in old Levi’s factories in San Francisco a decade ago. It flopped. He has since been linked romantically to Jean, with Clarke stating that the two had been seeing one another while Kasem was ailing; he says neighbours confirmed Gressy had been living with Jean in her Malibu condo for just over a year.

Meanwhile, back in Montreal, Kasem’s coffin was taken to Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport on the weekend of Aug. 16, and flown to Oslo. Clarke obtained and released the Aug. 7 letter Jean Kasem wrote to Norwegian authorities. In it, she stated: “I would like for my husband of 35 years to rest in peace in Norway. He always said that Norway symbolizes peace and looks like heaven and I would like to respectfully fulfill his wishes.”

There is no public evidence that Casey, born in Detroit of Lebanese extraction, fancied Oslo, and Clarke says Jean “had to pay $2,600 plus change because they’re not residents and citizens of Norway.” However, in the letter, Jean Kasem claimed Norwegian heritage and said she planned to move to Norway by the end of the year. “Therefore,” she wrote, “I would also like to be near my husband’s resting place so my daughter and I could visit him often.”

Was all of this a final romantic gesture from a woman married to Casey Kasem for three decades of her life? What else could explain her behaviour? When asked what she thinks, Kerri Kasem barely suppresses a snort of derision. “I have no idea. Maybe if she was evaluated by a mental doctor . . . ”

Clarke alleges there is a darker motive. “Jean’s on the run,” he says. “There was an autopsy. We wanted more done and that’s why she’s carted him around.” On Sept. 29, the Oslo funeral home where his body was resting stated that it would not be burying Casey Kasem, having received a Kerri-organized petition with 20,000 names on it.

Something concrete may yet come of this. “We will find out where my dad is eventually buried when the law that I am working on passes,” Kerri says. That would be Visitation Bill AB2034, authored by California State Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who appeared with Kerri when it was introduced in June 2014. The bill would protect children from being denied access to a parent by a parent’s future spouse or child. “Jean Kasem would be court-ordered to tell us where our dad is,” she says.

Lost in all of this is the man himself. Casey Kasem was famous for a honeyed baritone and his genteel, avuncular presence on the airwaves for five decades. Among the pitiable catalogue of ailments that beset his final days was Lewy body dementia, which rendered him mute. And now, as his final rest is further postponed, one of America’s signature voices once again has no say in the matter.

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Tracing Casey Kasem’s sad, strange final days

  1. Casey’s kids are ALL begging for a full autopsy, but the ex-wifey is having the body shipped, via interstellar space to Mars now ? -err um Norway? -ok same place.
    Obviously his “ex-wife” is guilty of abuse, even unto death, but HEY!, TMZ needs to milk it first for lots ‘o money right ?
    The American Justice system, is just a plague upon itself. -pathetic.

    • I doubt ALL of Casey Kasem’s kids are begging for an autopsy, unless Liberty Kasem, daughter from the second marriage has said anything?

      If there was abuse, the authorities are taking their time laying charges. They had a month to issue a hold on the body being moved, didn’t do it.

  2. This story seems to have been based entirely on statements from Kerri Kasem, her PI and her press agent, who are not exactly unbiased in this two-way grudge match going back decades. It might be worth double-checking the details, because some of them from Kerri’s camp seem to drift over time.

    For example: Clarke’s roadtrip story is contradicted by a nurse (suing Jean for back pay) who said that she cared for Casey at the Kasem home in the two days after he was removed from the Berkeley East Convalescent Hospital, after Kerri’s unauthorized late night visit. Also, the letter to the Santa Monica Office of Criminal Investigations, dated two weeks later (huh?), doesn’t confirm that medical conservatorship was about to be given to Kerri. That seems to be a misunderstanding or invention. Also, there’s been no evidence that Jean Kasem has going to have Casey’s body cremated. At the time that Kerri’s side said to the court that they were mainly concerned that Jean was going to have an autopsy done by her doctor and they wanted their doctor to do it.

    I doubt either side is telling the whole complete truth, but I’ve noticed that Kerri Kasem’s side has been working the press every few weeks with a shifting story designed to paint Jean Kasem in the worst way.

  3. And contrary to Kerri’s tweet, the Oslo funeral home has said in Norwegian English-language papers that they haven’t refused to bury Casey’s body, that they’re waiting on paperwork from the government. Fact-checking please!

      • Casey Kasem burial wrangle continues in Norway 3rd October, 2014

  4. Wow another media story with holes to get this stupid bill passed so rich stars children can get what they want power and control Yes it is amazing a nurse is suing to be paid for time he was partying in Vegas if keri has no ties to scientology how does she explain Jesse koves involvement with l ron hubbard theatre and keris interview today with Elna Cardone on Women of Power with ties to the church of Scientology too many lies people wakeup

  5. They’ll make a movie of it yet, to milk it some more, aptly called:
    “Tracey Casey”

  6. Well Rick, I can see you are another ‘wanna be private eye’…or armchair quarterback, who really believes his own BS. Your ‘Facts’ are all wrong here pal. I’ll just point out the obvious… If you notice in the story there are NO QUOTES when the reporter says ‘Logan said’…they went from Santa Monica Berkeley East straight to Vegas……you know why Rick? Because I never said that! Just because you read one article on a subject you think you know whats going on? You believe you actually know more than a 35 year plus veteran detective who has read thousands of documents on this, interviewed doctors and police..a detective who has put more criminals behind bars than you have shirts in your closet !! I have rescued woman from Human Trafficking, kidnappings and sex gangs…brought several hundred kidnapped children home to their families from Mexico,Egypt, Sudan,Yemen and Asia to name a few places…and much, much more….and YOU have the audacity to publicly say I don’t know what I’m doing or talking about….’Im just self promoting’… Have you looked me up dip shit? I do not need self promotion. I am in the news quite often on various cases. In books that are published, a dozen magazine stories…you think I need publicity and i would lie about facts in a criminal case? I take on a lot of high profile cases for very loyal clients for many years. What have you done lately for mankind? You sir have no idea what you are talking about. Your head is up where the sun does not shine Magnum. Also the Norwegian government turned DOWN the burial request until they heard back from SMPD…SMPD just turned the case over to LAPD for prosecution, because the crimes are better prosecuted from that jurisdiction. Liberty isn’t begging for an autopsy because she is one of the perps here. The reason WE wanted an autopsy is because there are very specific tests and body parts that must be done and must be preserved in order to properly check for SEPSIS and other deadly germs and issues, such as poisoning. A ‘Normal’ autopsy does NOT do that…so again you are totally out to lunch on your theory Rick old boy ! You don’t know much Rick…but at least NOW you know…your a moron !

    • …and that’s why you’re still running around conclusively looking?. You’re a success story allright.
      make that your new movie rights. Mr TMZ, !
      How ’bout “Dick Tracey Casey Chronicles” that way you can leave this, as your great contribution to mankind, besides just being yet another ambulance chaser,

    • You mad bro?

      So professional. If you really are Logan Clarke, you sure do go on and on at what a great guy you are. I’d rate you as a dubious source at best, with poor posting skills with a bag of ad hominems and other logical fallacies, and bully in the playground posturing.

      See Clarke, I may not be a super hero like you, but one thing that I am good at is reading what’s been reported and keeping straight who said what. (And for when I’m not, I carry a database.) Speaking of which, I don’t think I said “self-promoting”, but if the shoe fits…

      Have a nice day.

      • By the way, I have no connection to the poster “RICKSTER69”. Perhaps that’s the source of some of your obvious confusion?

    • Oh, sorry, but did you just make a passive-aggressive accusation of poisoning? “in order to properly check for SEPSIS and other deadly germs and issues, such as poisoning.”

      Amazing how all those doctors in the hospital missed that! I guess they never ran any blood tests or biopsies on Casey Kasem while he was alive. Hard to imagine that a standard autopsy would miss sepsis, but you’re the expert. Oh, wait… Sorry, but in your glowing hagiography on yourself as a private dick, I missed your medical qualifications.

  7. Hey Logan, lookup “kardashianism” ‘casue that’s how this whole thing is gonna play out, and u darn well know it flatfoot.

  8. Thats the best comeback you got Magnum? Im sure you follow the Kardashians regularly for your daily dose of crap…When you grow up and want to play in the ‘real world’…come see me. Ill take you on an ‘extraction’ in Mexico and lets see how long your pants stay dry:)
    ‘Those who CAN…DO…those who can’t, write in blogs and pretend.

    • Listen you little glory-hound, there’s a million unsung-heroes on this planet everyday, that get no recognition, that don’t get to cloth themselves in your medals of vanity, You brag about what you’ve been through, and achieved, like you’ve seen the ends of the earth.
      For every medal of valor or accolade that you try to pin on yourself, (or let Hollywood, or Sun news do it for you), the world has a million more “unsung” heroes, everyday, that have done much more than you.
      Take the simple MRI, which thanks to tens of thousands of Electronic/Computer Engineers, Techn ologists, and technicians, have saved more lives than minutes you have lived.
      But they get nothing for their hard work and contribution, they don’t even get mentioned, they just get used. I am one of those working class hero grunts, that helped contibute my small parts to that medical DSP revolution. but u wanna talk in my space?, I’ll walk circles around you anyday.
      You’re a stage artist, – a dancing-bear side show. Try working in my world everyday for the last 10-hour/day, 30 years you fsckin’ wannabe hero.

      I CAN, and I did, but it ain’t newsworthy because it didn’t gloriously happen fast-enough to be newsworthy for the likes of your kind.
      Spare me your lectures junior, I’ve paid for my home, and my dues the hard long way. I’ve raised my daughter thru’ university, I know I have contributed what I could, and I still do. I and most of this planet are just working class heroes, but YOU -you really are a vain kardashianism come to fruition. welcome home you mofo’er.

  9. Hey Logan,
    “Ill take you on an ‘extraction’ in Mexico and lets see how long your pants stay dry:)”

    You wanna play Captain America with me?, ’cause my kids are all grownup. You’re right, I need a challenge. I’m ready to go, lets see who hides behind the 007 camera.
    Seriously, war and it’s inevitable danger should be for older men like me, these days, who have made their peace, and now they have nothing to lose but fear and gutlessness itself. -lol.
    Mexico is nothing but a Tequila-party, how ’bout you and me goto Turkey and try to rescue some Kurds? -now that is a noble challenge isn’t it Hero ?

  10. Hey Logan, you also said(in comments):
    “The reason WE wanted an autopsy is because …. A ‘Normal’ autopsy does NOT do that..” huh ?
    wow, no kiddin’ Dick Tracey.

    That’s exactly what I said that in my first comment with a “full autopsy”, as to my guess why.

    What a waste of time and energy – You didn’t read it right at all, all you did read are my other comments, or someone elses comments here that you didn’t like, at which point you suddenly went all Hulk Hogan. why?, I dunno.
    Listen dude, maybe you better layoff some of those “dangerous” trips to Mexico -I hear there’s more than just alcohol in those Tequila bottles?
    either that, or you and this “author” string out the timelines and facts a little better next time. !