Don Imus, one of the iconic radio morning DJs in New York radio history, died today this at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station, TX. He was 79 and had been being hospitalized there since Christmas Eve.
For many years, Imus was a towering presence in New York, where he started in 1971 after being hired away from Cleveland, where it was clear he was onto something big. In his heyday, he spearheaded WNBC and was a thorn in the side of Howard Stern, who put his reminiscences of the bitterness between them in the autobiographical 1997 film Private Parts. Imus defined the “shock jock” period, where certain irascible personalities flourished on the air.
Imus developed a coterie of characters he played, including the Right Reverend Billy Sol Hargus, Blind Mississippi White Boy, Pig Feets Dupree, Senator Edward Kennedy, Scott Muni and others. Imus appealed to the right audience, and his show drew blue-chip advertisers for his strong demo. He did interviews with the likes of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, John McCain and many others in the political sphere. His mainstay crew consisted of newsman Charles McCord and Bernard McGuirk, the latter a producer armed with a quick wit and a broad range of impressions. Imus continued to drive the radio station even as it embraced an all-sports format.
Along the way, Imus had substance abuse problems he eventually overcame, and I recall once he didn’t show up for his shift. While his star faded, Imus cooked his own goose in 2007 when he referred to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy headed ho’s,” after the team lost in the NCAA finals. He was roundly condemned for his comments, and lost it all, shortly after Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton met with ex-CBS chief Les Moonves (whose own career would eventually be ended for allegations that were much worse) and it was decided Imus had to go. Imus was making $10 million a year at the time.
While he and his cohorts straddled the line between satire and bad taste, and though he made an emotional apology, his comments about college athletes was too much. His career never recovered, though he would resurface on WABC.
Imus got a bit of redemption in his later years, devoting much of his time to the Imus Ranch program for kids with cancer, where he would invite kids to an actual ranch — Imus grew up on a working family ranch in Kingman, AZ — and allow them to forget their illnesses for a moment and have a good time. It was there that he met Zachary, who was 10 when he came to the ranch. The youth overcame leukemia, and he eventually became a member of the family when adopted by Imus and his wife Deirdre.
Imus hung up his spurs and retired his Imus in the Morning show in March 2018.
The family will hold a small private service in the coming days and request that any donations be made to the Imus Ranch Foundation which continues to provide resources to other outstanding charities which support families of children suffering from cancer and other illnesses during their times of needs.
Imus is survived by his wife of 25 years, Dierdre; their son Wyatt and adopted son Zachary; and four daughters from previous marriages, Nadine, Ashley, Elizabeth and Toni.