Is Rick Dees a screaming blue meanie? The grinch who stole Christmas? The wicked witch of the West Coast?
That's what a variety of entertainment industry figures are wondering after the popular KIIS-FM morning deejay made his verbal assault on homeless people who had been living in the Venice Beach area. Dees' Jan. 6 remarks, which depicted the homeless as "druggies," "idiots" and "scuzzbos," were not stated in his typically joking fashion. They caused such a stir that Pop Eye has obtained a tape recording of his statement.
Noting that it was now against the law to camp out on Venice Beach, Dees said:
Now let me tell you who's been camping out on the beaches--the homeless. The homeless druggies on PCP who are all screwed up and messing up the beach down there . . . . You people need help and maybe you'll take some of that help and go get help. Because if we keep giving you money and you keep buying drugs and we keep on giving you a place to stay between your drug connections, the beach will continue to be the PCP-crazed jungle--a bunch of idiots--that it continues to be.
It would be nice to take a moonlight stroll on the beach without stepping on these scuzzbos. The bottom line is that we don't need them on the beach. Take 'em all and throw them into a huge (indecipherable) dumpster and take the dumpster down to the Betty Ford Center and get the help for them. Let's get idiots off the beach.
When one of Dees' sidekicks explained that some homeless people might have legitimate problems, Dees countered:
Well, that makes it even worse. That opens it wide open to that guy who killed his 16 family members in Arkansas to be down there. I'd rather have the drug guys than him. Let's get them all off the beach.
A staffer for Dees said that "we've left messages for him but can't reach him." However, on Jan. 20, Dees told Times reporter Jack Jones: "What I said was that the people who are dealing drugs and messing up . . . the beaches should be put in dumpsters. I wasn't talking about the homeless, but the drug pushers. If they happen to be homeless too, well. . . ."
KISS-FM program director Steve Rivers said Dees went on the air Jan. 15 to clarify his remarks, insisting he was critical of drug pushers, not simply the homeless. Rivers added that the station's parent company, Gannett Co. Inc., through its Gannett Foundation, made a $250,000 grant last December to the Community Services Resource Corp. to help fund homeless shelter programs.
Numerous entertainment figures were contacted about Dees' remarks. Those who responded said:
Actress Rosanna Arquette, who is co-producing a dramatic film about homeless children: "What Rick Dees said was horrible and disgusting. It just shows how ignorant some people can be. Doesn't he know there are lots of homeless families, with wives and kids? These people aren't all drug addicts or junkies--a lot of them are good human beings. I'm surprised that this guy could be so totally lacking in compassion for people who just have no place to live or are down on their luck."
Radio personality Casey Kasem, host of "American Top 40" and supporter of Californians Working Together to End Hunger and Homeless ballot initiative: "During the Grate American Sleep Out last year, I had a chance to talk with the homeless--young and old, college grads and people who looked like they'd be there the rest of their lives. And I realized that most of these people want to get out of that situation--they just need help.
"You know, Rick could be an articulate spokesman for good instead of perpetuating these unfortunate stereotypes," Kasem said. "I think Rick should take the opportunity to actually meet some homeless people, spend a night with them and see who they really are. He's the No. 1 deejay in town, his opinions are very powerful and his listeners should have the opportunity to hear what he thinks after he's seen what the situation is really like. Then Rick could tell it like it really is--that the obscenity in Washington is that we're pouring millions into arms systems while 30 million people go hungry every night."
Textones leader Carla Olson, whose 1985 album, "Midnight Mission" paid tribute to the downtown homeless center: "Homelessness is not a life of choice--and it's shameful that someone with such an influential platform as Mr. Dees should have such a lack of understanding of the homeless and hungry's plight. This is obviously a problem that not only hasn't been resolved, but is still misunderstood."
Rock manager Danny Goldberg, who is also chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union Southern California affiliate: "We'd all like to see a beach without the homeless, but it's a disgrace that a prominent deejay like Rick Dees would choose to engage in this bizarre primal therapy by verbally bullying defenseless, suffering people. By and large, homeless people are victims, not victimizers. The problem is that some of us are trying to solve the problem while others are exploiting it--you don't solve anything by treating human beings like refuse. What Dees is saying is immoral . . . and totally out of step with our American traditions."
Singer/songwriter Peter Case, who organized several benefit concerts for the homeless: "Geez, Dees is so ignorant he almost sounds like Wally George. He's speaking out of fear, not out of love. You just can't expect every problem to be swept away or wrapped up in a tidy package. I'd like to see him go down to the beach and talk to some of these people. Maybe that would open up his heart a little bit."