Longtime radio host Don Imus dead at 79

Longtime radio host Don Imus dead at 79

Longtime radio host Don Imus dead at 79
Los Angeles Times via Getty

Radio legend Don Imus, a pioneer of the shock-jock format whose career spanned more than 50 years, died Friday at a hospital in College Station, Texas. He was 79.

Imus died near his home in Brenham, after being hospitalized on Christmas Eve. The cause was not immediately released.

“Deirdre, his wife of 25 years, and his son Wyatt, 21, were at his side, and his son Lt. Zachary Don Cates is returning from military service overseas,” a statement from his family said.

Starting in 1968, Imus hosted the popular radio talk show “Imus in the Morning,” which would be aired on various stations over the years until his retirement in 2018.

“He was the ultimate shock jock,” his former WFAN colleague Mike Francesa said on the radio Friday afternoon. “He leaves behind a legacy as one of the great pioneers in the history of New York and the history of radio.”

The former railroad worker and uranium miner, who never finished college, began his career in California and Ohio before coming to New York in 1971 to join WNBC.

But in what would be one of many personal setbacks suffered in his career, Imus was fired from the station for drug and alcohol abuse in 1977. After a stint in rehab, he came back after a couple years stronger than ever on another station.

He decamped to WFAN in 1988. The show became nationally syndicated in 1993.

On air every weekday, Imus regaled his millions of listeners with takes on sports, politics and opinions — pioneering a style of in-your-face radio format now commonplace on American airwaves.

“I think I learned more about radio from Don than anybody else,” Francesca said. “What he gave [WFAN] was a sense of professionalism and a sense of accountability.”

Imus added interviews with notable politicians, musicians and journalists to his repertoire in the 1990s — but never lost his edge, routinely calling Dick Cheney a “war criminal” and Hillary Clinton “Satan.”

In 1996, Imus enraged guests at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner by cracking jokes about Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs while the then-first lady sat just feet away.

In 1997 he was sued for calling a Manhattan judge a “creep” and ”a senile old dirtbag.”

He was also known for stunts. In 2000, he dispatched his followers to the set of CBS’s “Early Show” to collect donations to support host Bryant Gumbel’s estranged wife, who was only getting $250 per month in child support.

His takes sometimes landed him in trouble. “The I-man” was fired at least four times over the course of his career.

In 2007, Imus lost his spot on WFAN and a TV gig on MSNBC after describing a the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy headed hos.”

He would be hired later that year by WABC and continue his career. His radio show was also simulcast on television on the Fox Business Network from 2009 to 2015.

From 1999 to 2014, Imus was involved in a charity hosting kids with cancer at his New Mexico ranch.

One of those kids, Zachary Don Cates, came to the ranch at age 10 and was later adopted by the Imus family.

In addition to Zachary and Wyatt, Imus is survived by four daughters, Nadine, Ashley, Elizabeth and Toni, who he raised with his first wife.

Longtime listeners mourned his passing.

“I grew up listening to Don Imus on @WFAN,” David R. Veloz posted on Twitter. “He made me laugh on my way to school, college and then work.”

“Don Imus is one of the most important radio performers in history. Without him, sports radio as we know it may not even exist,” tweeted former colleague Rob Weingarten.

Culled: Pagesix

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