Chris Douridas first made a name for himself as the musical director at Santa Monica’s public radio powerhouse KCRW-FM and as the original host of the station’s cutting-edge and influential show “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” But that was just the opening act.
The Grammy-nominated tastemaker, renowned for an encyclopedic musical knowledge and for spotting new talent, soon parlayed his radio successes into widely acclaimed work for the movies and the Internet. Since the mid-1990s, the 43-year-old Pacific Palisades resident has gone on to serve as a musical supervisor or consultant for nearly 20 movies, including Oscar winners such as “American Beauty” and blockbuster hits such as “Austin Powers” and “Shrek 2.”
More recently, Douridas was tapped by computer entrepreneur Steve Jobs to be a creative consultant for iTunes, where he helped create and still curates a series of downloadable playlists for iPod users. It was all part of a career trajectory guided and fueled by his singular passion for sounds -- one that made him part of Hollywood’s musical elite.
And then it all seemed to fall apart one night in January when Douridas walked into a popular Santa Monica bar. By the time the night was over, he was in jail and his career and freedom were suddenly question marks.
Though many details of what happened are unknown, law enforcement officials paint a lurid picture of events that led to Douridas’ arrest Jan. 6 on suspicion of drugging and trying to kidnap a 14-year-old girl.
At least one witness reported seeing Douridas slip a substance into the glass of the teenage girl, who had entered the Circle Bar on Main Street with her cousin’s identification, according to the Santa Monica Police Department. Shortly after consuming the drink, the teenager became ill, prompting Douridas to carry her outside the bar and into a nearby car, according to police.
Witnesses phoned police, who then arrested him outside the bar, according to reports. After spending several days in jail, Douridas, the father of a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old son, was freed on $1 million bail. Since then, he has struggled to regain his former life.
Defenders of Douridas offer a strikingly different version of events that night and note the immense psychological toll the ordeal has placed upon one of local radio’s most respected personalities.
“It’s been extremely emotionally draining for all of us and especially for Chris,” said Mieke Kramer, Douridas’ ex-wife, who was one of the first people he called after being arrested. “I know people have their doubts, but as far as I’m concerned this is a case of good intentions that were misinterpreted as bad ones.”
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office sex-crimes division is gathering evidence in the case and has not decided whether to file charges. An important part of its decision rests upon the toxicology test results from the teenage girl’s drink.
At stake is not only a man’s future but also the reputation of KCRW (89.9), which could have easily distanced itself from Douridas by placing him on administrative leave. Instead, the station, a hub of liberal values and hip culture, has stood staunchly behind Douridas from the moment of his arrest. In addition to issuing strong statements of support, the station has kept his weekly show called “New Ground,” which airs locally Saturday afternoons from noon to 2 p.m., on the air.
Inside the station, Douridas’ arrest is not a welcome topic. Employees bristle at the accusations and resent the media for reporting the story before charges have been filed. They firmly back Douridas, who has worked at the station for some 15 years, and are confident he -- and their decision to support him -- will be vindicated.
“The mood around here is completely the same as it has been since this started, and that is we totally stand behind Chris,” said Jennifer Ferro, KCRW’s assistant general manager. “He’s been around thousands of people here, and if there were anything that was amiss we would have known about it and would have acted on it.”
The station’s unflinching position has provoked criticism, mostly from the blogosphere. Former KCRW radio host Sandra Tsing Loh, fired in 2004 for an on-air obscenity, questioned the station’s handling of the situation in a guest blog on conservative commentator Catherine Seipp’s website.
“I wonder however if at least for community relations purposes, KCRW has now erred too much on the side of caution.... I do think KCRW could have said more. After all, there was a hospitalized 14-year-old girl involved,” wrote Loh, who hosts a radio show on KPCC-FM (89.3) in Pasadena.
“For me, given a certain infamous late-night Santa Monica bar scene everyone’s wondering about, and obsessively imagining, and re-imagining, it’s eerie to hear, from KCRW, nothing but unbroken dance music,” Loh wrote.
For his part, Douridas has addressed the subject briefly only a couple of times on the air -- once during the station’s recent pledge drive, the other on his own show, and both times he declared his innocence.
In a brief e-mail to The Times, Douridas wrote: “I appreciate that the district attorney’s office has not rushed to judgment and is looking at all aspects of the investigation. False allegations have been made against me, but I have faith in the justice system. I am convinced that I will be vindicated.”
Citing legal reasons, Douridas declined to talk further for this story.
However, Kramer, who has remained close friends with her former husband, offered details of her ex-husband’s arrest that rebut the law enforcement version of events.
According to Kramer, Douridas was having a drink at the bar late Jan. 5 when he noticed the teenager whom he’d met that evening was becoming ill. Seeing no one else moving to assist her, Douridas took it upon himself to help her outside to get fresh air, she said.
“He’s the kind of person, unlike so many others, that will step forward and help,” said Kramer, who has two children with Douridas. “He’s the kind of person who pulls over when he sees someone’s car is broken down. This is a case of good intentions misinterpreted and an example of why people don’t help each other anymore.”
The next thing Douridas knew, she said, he was being taken to jail. Even in the first hours of his incarceration, Douridas was unclear why he had been arrested, said Kramer.
“Some people are thinking he’s this horrible person even though they don’t know him,” Kramer said. “When you have a whole bunch of facts and take out a few things and put them in a certain order, they can make anything look true. But once the evidence is laid out, it’s going to be obvious what happened. He didn’t do anything but try to help someone in trouble.”
The arrest and subsequent lengthy wait for the decision about filing charges has been difficult for Douridas, who has been holding up well under the tremendous strain, Kramer said.
“He is one of the strongest people I know,” she said. “He’s always been an incredibly optimistic person, and he’s confident that good will eventually prevail in this case.”
Citing irreconcilable differences, the couple filed for divorce in 1998, said Kramer. Though they split, the pair has remained emotionally close -- so close, in fact, that Kramer was featured in a Time magazine article last year about divorced couples who still maintain exceptionally good friendships.
“Divorce always comes with difficult times, but the fact we came out of it as best friends says a lot about him,” said Kramer.
Douridas’ arrest this year was not his first brush with the law. In 1999, he was arrested in Florida on suspicion of possession of cocaine and Ecstasy, according to a report from the St. Petersburg Police Department
In that March 13 incident, an undercover officer said he saw Douridas pull into the parking lot of a local establishment around 3:25 a.m. and ingest an unknown substance, which later turned out to be cocaine, according to police. When confronted about the white residue under his nose, Douridas told officers he had just eaten a powdered doughnut, according to the report.
Kramer said, however, the “powdered doughnut” remark was intended as a sarcastic reply to the arresting officers.
Police searched his car and according to the report discovered eight Ecstasy pills, known for producing euphoric highs. Later, Douridas pleaded no contest to the charges and was placed on probation for two years.
The incident did little to derail his career in music. He became famous for an uncanny ability to pick hits and discover unsigned talent -- he was among the first to spotlight artists such as Beck and Gillian Welch. As KCRW’s musical director and host of “Morning Becomes Eclectic” from 1990 to 1998, his sophisticated musical tastes quickly led him to Hollywood.
His offbeat touch could be seen on TV shows such as “Northern Exposure” and films such as “Grosse Pointe Blank”; his most recent project is the upcoming DreamWorks animated movie “Over the Hedge.” In 1999, his work on “American Beauty” earned him a Grammy nomination.
Douridas too has been able to capitalize on the dynamic change in the music industry ushered in by the Internet. In addition to serving as a consultant to Apple’s Steve Jobs, he also was a former vice president at America Online, where he hosted an interview and performance program that brought in Paul McCartney, U2 and Peter Gabriel, among others.