Hollywood legends’ children push elder visitation bill

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

The adult children of entertainment legends Casey Kasem, Mickey Rooney and Glen Campbell tried Tuesday to convince Michigan legislators to pass a law they say would protect aging parents by ensuring visitation rights for their loved ones.

Kerri Kasem, Kelly Rooney and Travis Campbell were joined by other supporters in speaking before the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee, which backed the legislation.

Kerri Kasem was involved in several contentious court battles against her stepmother, Jean Thompson Kasem, for the right to see her father, the “American Top 40” host who died in 2014 of complications of Lewy body dementia at age 82.

Since the death of her father, a Detroit native who began his radio career at Wayne State University, Kerri Kasem has been on a mission to guarantee that family members can visit ill or incompetent relatives through measures such as the one being considered in Lansing.

“What it would allow the judge to do is to just rule on visitation. It would put the burden of proof on the caretaker,” said Kerri Kasem. “If they’re not allowing visitation, they have to prove why instead of hearsay.”

Travis Campbell, the son of Glen Campbell, said he was limited in his ability to see his father when the country-western musician began to decline. Campbell, known for hits such as “Wichita Lineman” and “Southern Nights,” died of Alzheimer’s disease in August at age 81.

Travis Campbell said he was instrumental in getting lawmakers in Tennessee to pass an elder visitation bill two years ago. He said toward the end of his father’s life, he was only allowed to see him for four hours twice a month.

“(The bill) is not just for us,” Travis Campbell said. “It’s for everybody.”

Campbell said he was concerned about his father’s health because the singer-guitarist was made to perform 151 shows over three years, even though the entertainer felt he could not perform that many concerts.

Kelly Rooney said her isolation from her father was “slow ... gradual” and that he had complained of emotional and other forms of abuse before his death in 2014 at the age of 93.

“They withheld medication and withheld food from him,” Rooney said of her father’s caretakers.

Rooney, a film legend whose career began in the 1920s, testified about elder abuse before Congress in 2013. Kelly Rooney became emotional speaking to The Detroit News Tuesday about not seeing her dad for nearly two years before he died. She said her brother found out about her father’s death through through the TV show “TMZ.”

Kelly Rooney said her father was forced to continue to work and he was “demeaned” when he forgot lines or couldn’t read cue cards. She said her father’s caretakers would tell her he was not home when she called to come see him. She said she relied on impromptu visits to see her father.

“They held him hostage and they stole time from us,” she said.

Kathleen Wright-Brawn, the chairman of the Kasem Cares board, said elder abuse and visitation are becoming top issues for families across the country.

Wright-Brawn said her father’s female friend became his caretaker and blocked her from seeing him.

Wright-Brawn’s dad, millionaire Thomas C. Wright, died at age 82 in 2014 from the same form of dementia as Casey Kasem.

“I had 20 minutes to see my dad,” said Wright-Brawn. She encouraged children and other family members to become “aware” of their loved ones’ lives before they are put into a caretaker situation and it takes a court battle to be able to see them.

“Make a videotape of them holding a newspaper with the date on it (telling their wishes),” she said.

Concerns over visitation also arose after the death of former Motown singer Dennis Edwards, a member of the Temptations. Edwards died Feb. 1 at the age of 74 in Chicago.

A police investigation is underway into allegations of elder abuse in his death. Edwards’ wife, Brenda Edwards, was the subject of a personal protection order filed on the singer’s behalf last month.

Kerri Kasem said 11 states have passed visitation legislation.

Local broadcaster John Akouri is working with Kerri Kasem and the others to get the Michigan bill passed.

“Detroit is ground-zero in this march and God willing, one day all 50 states will pass this bill,” said Akouri, president of the Lebanese-American Chamber of Commerce. “Our parents were there for us when we entered this world, and we, their children, should be there for them when they leave us.”

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