Don Imus, the broadcast provocateur who was a staple of morning drive-time radio for decades, died on Friday in College Station, Texas, after being hospitalized on Christmas Eve. He was 79.
Imus retired from his nationally syndicated “Imus in the Morning” radio show in March 2018. He told CBS News at the time he was suffering from emphysema.
Imus was known to fans as the “I-Man” who prided himself on speaking his mind about politics, pop culture and other hot topics.
But Imus faced a barrage of criticism and lost CBS’ radio group as his national platform in 2007 after he made racially disparaging comments about members of Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team. Imus jokingly referred to members of the team as being “nappy-headed hos.” He later met with some of the players and apologized in person.
At his peak in the 1990s and early 2000s, Imus’ two-hour daily radio show was simulcast live on MSNBC. But that was also scrapped after the Rutgers controversy.
“I wasn’t trying to be outrageous,” Imus told CBS News last year about his long run as a radio personality. “It’s just the way I thought. My feeling was then, and is now, that if they didn’t like what I did, get somebody else to do it.”
Imus’ influence on a generation of radio and TV personalities has been significant, as noted via Twitter by “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough.
“‘Morning Joe’ obviously owes its format to Don Imus. No one else could have gotten away with that much talk on cable news,” Scarborough wrote.
In later years, Imus was dedicated to running his Imus Ranch foundation, a 4,000-acre cattle ranch in Ribera, N.M., that offers training and “cowboy experiences” to children facing cancer and blood disorders, and the siblings of infants lost to sudden infant death syndrome. Imus and his wife Deirdre opened the facility in 1998. The couple’s 21-year-old son, Wyatt Imus, is a champion rodeo star.
Born in Riverside, Calif., in 1940, Imus grew up on a ranch in Arizona. After high school, he served a hitch in the Marines, worked in copper and uranium mines, and as a brakeman for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He wrangled his way into a disc jockey job at a Los Angeles radio station, and within three years had launched “Imus in the Morning” as a regular on New York powerhouse WNBC-AM. For a time, Imus worked at the station with Howard Stern; the two were known to have had a frosty relationship over the years.
After WNBC went off the air in 1988, Imus had a long residency on CBS-owned sports station WFAN, which ended with the Rutgers incident. By early 2008, “Imus in the Morning” was picked up again for national radio syndication by Citadel Broadcasting via its WABC flagship. Fox Business Network carried a video simulcast of the show for several years, but ended it in 2015.
Imus was known for his droll sense of humor, his distinctive Western drawl and ever-present cowboy hat. He married Deirdre Imus in 1994 after meeting the actor and fitness instructor as a guest on the show.
Imus was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Radio Hall of Fame in 1989. He earned four Marconi awards during his long career. In 1996, Imus courted controversy with pointed remarks about President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton during his one outing as host of the annual White House Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association dinner.
In addition to his wife and son Wyatt, Imus’ survivors include son Zachary Don Cates, and four daughters.
The family requests that donations be made to the Imus Ranch foundation.