Don Imus, Outrageously Popular Radio Host, Dies

Pioneering 'Imus in the Morning' began in 1971 and ended last year
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 27, 2019 5:50 PM CST
Don Imus, Outrageously Popular Radio Host, Dies
Don Imus hosts "Imus in the Morning" on the Fox Business Network in 2015.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Don Imus, a pioneer of shock jock radio with his hugely popular but often widely offensive Imus in the Morning, died Friday at 79. He was hospitalized Tuesday in Texas; a cause of death was not released. Imus had retired just last year, NBC reports, signing off on March 29. The daily show had launched on WNBC-FM in New York in 1971 and was simulcast on WFAN and MSNBC starting in 1996, per WNBC-TV. His show combined rock, call-in guests and raunchy humor. Listeners and guests included people he had coarsely mocked on the air, including Bill Clinton, Bill Bradley, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani. One of them, Jeff Greenfield, said, per the Hollywood Reporter, "He's out there talking the way most of us talk when we're not in public." MSNBC host Joe Scarborough tweeted Friday: "Morning Joe obviously owes its format to Don Imus. No one else could have gotten away with that much talk." Imus' survivors include his wife of 25 years, Deirdre.

Imus grew up on a ranch in Arizona and later founded the Imus Ranch in New Mexico with his wife; among their philanthropic activities was hosting children with cancer each summer at the ranch. He dropped out of high school to join the Marines. A series of odd jobs followed, including window dresser, a job he lost after setting up mannequin striptease shows. Imus became a disc jockey, his satire and gags drawing attention from the FCC, among others. DJs have been required to identify themselves when making phone calls on the air since he ordered 1,200 hamburgers complete with odd toppings. He went through rehab in 1987, after a drinking binge, per the Washington Post, and said he was sober after that. Criticism of Imus went national when he made racist comments in 2007 about the Rutgers women's baskeball team; his show was dropped by MSNBC and CBS Radio. When he returned to the air, Imus greeted listeners with: "Dick Cheney is still a war criminal. Hillary Clinton is still Satan. And I’m back on the radio." (More Don Imus stories.)

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