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DJ Casper, Chicagoan who created the ‘Cha Cha Slide,’ dies at 58

If you are an earthling who was not born in the last 10 minutes, you’ve heard the Cha Cha Slide.

Think: “Slide to the left. Slide to the right. Crisscross. . .Everybody clap your hands!”

The global sensation — a line dance that can get hundreds moving in sync — is a regular at dance clubs, weddings and between whistles of professional sporting events.

The creator of the ear worm, Chicagoan Willie “DJ Casper” Perry Jr., died Monday at South Suburban Hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 58.

Mr. Perry developed the slide — also known as the Casper Slide — for an exercise class taught by his nephew at a Bally Total Fitness in Hyde Park in 1996.

Willie Perry, more famously known as DJ Casper, is photographed in his studio in Chicago in 2019. Perry died on Monday after battling cancer.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times, File

The song debuted in 1998 with Part I, but when Part II dropped in 2000, it became an international phenomenon.

“It’s like he became famous overnight, like rags to riches,” said close pal Tony Wilson, who’s also a James Brown tribute performer who toured with Brown and brought Perry along for the ride as an opening act after the song became a hit.

“It was a fluke but he made it work,” Wilson said.

He modeled the song on Charlie Green’s “The Bus Stop,” Wilson said.

The first of many very surreal moments, according to his friend, musician Mack Miller, came when Mr. Perry flew to New York City to be on a morning television program. 

“He began deejaying all over the world and playing that song,” said his sister Cleopatra Fincher. “I just remember he was more excited about the travel and the limo pick up than anything else, at least at first.”

Mr. Perry met Tyler Perry, Steve Harvey, Oprah Winfrey and the list goes on.

Mr. Perry got the nickname Casper as a kid because he always seemed to be on the move, “look away and he’s gone, disappearing like a ghost, or Houdini,” Fincher said.

The Cha Cha Slide, also known as the Casper Slide, has appeared in pop culture in a list too long for print. It includes a 60-second McDonald’s commercial that featured a dancing kid that went viral in 2007, as well as an awkward dancing skit on “Saturday Night Live” featuring Chicago-born funnyman John Mulaney.

The song bumped Britney Spears from the No. 1 spot on the British charts in 2004.

The largest Cha Cha Slide dance was achieved by 3,231 participants at an event in England in 2011, according to Guinness World Records.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Mr. Perry and his friends competed in lip synching competitions at clubs all over the South Side — and often won.

Mr. Perry spent part of his youth near 61st and Cottage in the Woodlawn area before moving further south.

“Willie did a wonderful lip sync dressed in different outfits and costumes. One time he dressed one side of himself up as a lady and the other side was a man and he sang a duet by just turning from side to side,” Miller said. “Or he’d roller skate on stage, we all loved to roller skate coming up. He was definitely an artist in many ways before he got into deejaying and playing parties and clubs.” 

Mr. Perry has been playing at regular deejay gigs for decades, from clubs to special events — like the 2016 Fourth of July celebrations in suburban Bolingbrook.

In an interview with the Sun-Times in 2019, Mr. Perry revealed he was diagnosed with both liver and kidney cancer in 2016. The illness, he said at the time, had gone into remission in 2018. His invariably positive attitude toward life led him to visit hospitals in Chicago to meet with cancer patients and encourage them to keep fighting.

The cancer ultimately returned. He was with family and loved ones when he passed, his sister said. 

Mr. Perry enjoyed fishing and playing harmless pranks on people — like hiding someone’s purse. 

Mr. Perry, a graduate of Hyde Park High School, lived in Hazel Crest and is the former host of “Saturday Night Steppers Set” on WVAZ-FM (102.7). More recently he hosted on an internet platform titled Casper Classic Radio.

Services are being planned.

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