LOS ANGELES — In pop culture, Casey Kasem was as sweet and dependable as a glass of warm milk and a plate of chocolate chip cookies, which only made the ugliness of his last few years of life seem more bizarre and tragic.
The radio host of "American Top 40" and voice of animated television characters like Scooby-Doo's sidekick Shaggy died Sunday morning at a hospital in Gig Harbor, Washington. He was 82. He suffered from a form of dementia, and his three adult children from his first wife fought a bitter legal battle with Kasem's second wife, Jean, over control of his health care in his final months.
That made Kasem a fixture on news outlets that feed on the sleazier side of celebrity life at a time when it wasn't clear he was aware of it or even able to understand.
Casey Kasem (1932-2014)
In this Sept. 20, 1987 file photo, Casey Kasem, along with his wife Jean Kasem, arrives at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Kasem, the smooth-voiced radio broadcaster who became the king of the top 40 countdown, died Sunday, June 15, 2014, according to Danny Deraney, publicist for Kasem's daughter, Kerri. He was 82. (AP Photo/File)
In this April 27, 1981 file photo, Casey Kasem and his wife Jean smile as he receives his own "Star" on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/File)
In this Monday, Oct. 27, 2003 file photo, Casey Kasem accepts a radio icon award during the Radio Music Awards in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta, file)
In this Oct. 27, 2003 file photo, Casey Kasem poses for photographers after receiving the Radio Icon award during The 2003 Radio Music Awards at the Aladdin Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison, file)
In this Jan. 26, 1991 file photo, entertainer Casey Kasem leads a group estimated at 15,000 people through the streets in Los Angeles protesting the United States' involvement in the Persian Gulf. (AP Photo/Bob Galbraith, file)
In this Nov. 15, 1992 file photo, Bruce Dumont, president of the Museum of Broadcast Communication, far left, stands with inductees, from left, ABC radio pioneer Leonard Goldenson, country music's Porter Wagoner, Detroit radio personality J.P. McCarthy, and "Top 40" host Casey Kasem, into the museum's Hall of Fame in Chicago, Ill. Also participating in the ceremony is Paul Harvey, far right. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell, file)
In this Oct. 29, 1995 file photo, Edward F. McLaughlin, left, Stan Freeberg, center, and Casey Kasem smile as they pose for photographers at a reception for inductees into the Museum of Broadcast Communications' Radio Hall of Fame, in Chicago. (AP Photo/James Crump, file)
This July 29, 2003 file photo shows radio personality Casey Kasem at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David G. Massey, file)
In this July 8, 1987 file photo, Casey Kasem and his wife Jean meet with reporters at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., upon the arrival of their group from the Soviet Union. (AP Photo/File)
This wouldn't seem all that remarkable for a bad-behaving pop star or actor who shed spouses with the frequency of changing characters. But this was Casey Kasem, whose work epitomized the gentler, romantic side of pop culture, of a time when stars were admired for their celebrity and worshipped for their talent.
"American Top 40," with Kasem's soft, homey voice counting down the hits, was a refuge from shock jocks or the screaming big-city radio voices. It was dependable, broadcast on some 1,000 stations at its peak, so if you were driving in Connecticut or Kansas, California or Kentucky, you could always take a measure of the pop charts with Casey.
Kasem weaved stories around the songs, anecdotes about interactions with fans or gee-whiz tales about how stars got their starts. Seldom was heard a discouraging word, unless it was a starting point for a narrative about coming back from hardship, the darkness before the dawn.