As Casey Kasem's Body Lies on Ice, His Family Squabbles Over $4 Million in Life Insurance

Casey Kasem with his wife Jean at the Emmy Awards in 1989.
Casey Kasem with his wife Jean at the Emmy Awards in 1989.
Flickr/Alan Light

[Update: Shortly after we published this story, TMZ broke the news that Casey Kasem's body was, in fact, buried in Norway last week.]

As headlines go, it’s hard to top "Casey Kasem's Body Ordered to Remain in Norway." That’s the body that was once to be interred at Forest Lawn, where Kasem, the legendary Los Angeles DJ who died in June at age 82 and remains unburied, believed he would be reincarnated.

It’s also the body that Kasem’s widow, actress Jean Kasem, and his grown children from an earlier marriage, have been warring over for most of a year.

The family feud turned into an ongoing legal battle, spurring accusations of fraud and murder and a litany of other memorable headlines, including "Casey Kasem’s Wife Threw Raw Meat at His Daughter to Protest His Hospitalization." 

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If there were any doubts that Kasem’s dying days hadn't turned into a screwball comedy, Jean Kasem, who played the blonde airhead wife of Nick Tortelli on Cheers, erased them with an explanation of her hamburger-tossing: “In the name of King David, I threw a piece of raw meat into the street in exchange for my husband to the wild rabid dogs.”

Kasem, the onetime American Top 40 host and voice of Shaggy in Scooby-Doo, could barely walk and hardly speak in those once-velvet tones when he was spirited away from a Santa Monica hospital by Jean. Disconnected from his surgically implanted feeding tube, he was taken on a roundabout ride to Las Vegas and then Washington state, and eventually to a hospital in Gig Harbor, near Tacoma. There he died from complications of Lewy body dementia, similar to Parkinson’s.

When his remains were finally airlifted to Norway, he’d completed a 8,000-mile world tour, dead and alive.

Now, as Casey’s body waits on ice in Oslo, his family bickers over $4 million in life insurance funds. Both sides — the widow and the children — are entitled to $2 million each from separate MetLife policies. But the squabbling and name-calling has so polarized the factions that each is attempting to prevent the other from collecting.

Jean Kasem told MetLife in a letter she wanted a “full investigation” before the insurer distributed the $2 million policy held by the children, led by Kasem’s daughter Kerri Kasem, a talk-radio host on KABC. The children “may have had a role in [Casey’s] demise,” Jean said, noting she’d hired a private investigator and asked police to look into the death.

Kerri Kasem’s response was to ask MetLife to likewise look into the role Jean played in the death, and refuse to pay the $2 million Jean had coming on a separate policy.

Wrote Kerri’s attorney, Martha Patterson: “We have been informed that the Santa Monica Police and the Los Angeles Police Departments are in the process of filing kidnapping and most likely some kind of murder charges against Jean Kasem as she removed Casey Kasem from a Skilled Nursing Facility on May 7 (kidnapping).”

Patterson claimed Casey died from critical-stage bed sores and dehydration related to his hospital removal, noting that “if it is proved that Jean Kasem intentionally caused the death of Casey Kasem,” she will legally must be disinherited.

Jean claimed Casey wasn’t getting proper care in Santa Monica, while Kerri contended that carting him away in an SUV hastened his death. The legal clash, with the children initially filing for conservatorship and claiming Jean was holding Casey hostage, turned a family rivalry into a public spectacle. As one of Kerri’s attorneys claimed, "Mrs. Kasem has been lying to Mr. Kasem for at least two years, telling him that they are divorced. What possible motive could Mrs. Kasem have for such cruelty? Perhaps the younger gentleman that is staying at the Malibu house and driving Mr. Kasem's car could answer that question for us."

MetLife says it is unsure who to pay at this point, and has asked a federal court to decide. Also looming is a January 8 L.A. Superior Court hearing over which side should pay $350,000 in attorney’s fees and other costs arising from the litigation. And TMZ reports that LAPD is about to send to prosecutors a report on an elder abuse investigation of Jean, though charges against her seem unlikely.

As for the late Casey Kasem, he ignominiously awaits a court order to send him to a peaceful grave. If a soul can think, he’s got to be repeating that hopeful sign-off he ended his radio shows with: “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars."

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