DJ Casper, Chicago hype man behind ‘Cha Cha Slide’ phenomenon, dies at 58

DJ Casper points at an award he's holding

Chicago-born hitmaker DJ Casper, who created the “Cha Cha Slide,” has died after a seven-year battle with cancer. (Justin Goff / Getty Images)

DJ Casper, creator of the 2000 novelty hit “Cha Cha Slide” and its ubiquitous line dance, has died at 58.

Casper, whose birth name was Willie Perry Jr., died Monday after a seven-year battle with cancer, his wife Kim confirmed to WLS-TV in Chicago, which was first to report on the musician’s death. The BBC reported that Casper had been diagnosed with kidney and liver cancer in 2016 and underwent treatment.

“Casper was a fun-loving, giving person,” his wife said in a statement. “He was a genuine, family oriented man. He loved Chicago with all his heart. He will be greatly missed.”

The family revealed his diagnosis in 2016 after launching a GoFundMe campaign to aid in his care.

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The hype man was born and reared in Chicago and once toured with funk legend James Brown. He began making music and deejaying when he was a teenager, describing himself as a natural entertainer who wanted to make people have fun. The South Sider, who also went by Mr. C the Slide Man, landed his stage name by wearing all white during his performances and earned his claim to fame with the megahit “Cha Cha Slide.” The song, whose video was shot in downtown Chicago, catalyzed an international dance craze that has remained in regular rotation at dance parties and wedding receptions since the early aughts.

“I really didn’t expect the ‘Cha-Cha Slide’ to do what it did,” he told Chicago’s PBS station WTTW in 2018.

“Cha Cha Slide” was originally titled “Casper Slide Pt. 1″ when it was released in 1998. Its corresponding choreography — directing dancers to stomp, “slide to the left, slide to the right. Criss cross,” and “cha cha real smooth” — was originally created for his nephew’s step aerobics class at Bally Total Fitness, Casper said, and the track was sold out of a trunk. Its local popularity prompted him to release “Casper Slide Pt. 2,” which was picked up by Chicago radio station WGCI-FM in 2000 and became a local hit, with listeners calling in to request the song.

M.O.B. Records picked up the song in 2004, leading DJ Casper to a deal with Universal Records.

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“I have one of the biggest songs that’s played at all stadiums: hockey, basketball, football, baseball; they played it at the Olympics,” DJ Casper told WLS in May. “It was just something that everybody could do.”

The song’s success allowed him to keep making music, he told WTTW, but the royalty checks slowed down since its peak and he splurged “until all the splurging is gone.” Although he continued to perform the hit at events, the novelty eventually wore off: “I’ve gotten sick of the song a long time ago. But I don’t get sick of people enjoying themselves.”

Dressed as a prison orderly working a turntable, Casper made a notable appearance in Season 6 of Netflix’s dramedy “Orange Is the New Black” when Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) hallucinates about her fellow inmates and prison guards doing the line dance. The song has also been included in the soundtracks for the films “Turning Red,” “Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania” and “Red Road.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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