John Donald "Don" Imus, Jr. (born July 23, 1940) is an American radio talk show host and writer, best known for his sarcasm, wit and often harsh language. His popular radio show, Imus in the Morning, airs daily.
Imus was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1989. In 2002, Talkers magazine ranked Imus as one of the greatest radio talk show hosts of all time.
Imus maintains three residences, one in Manhattan, another in Westport, Connecticut, and one in Ribera, New Mexico.
Don Imus was born in Riverside, California. His father was an alcoholic and his family moved around the American Southwest a great deal. His parents finally separated during this time after multiple affairs occured.
Imus served in the Marine Corps from 1957–1959. According to an interview in Vanity Fair, he dropped out of school while living in Prescott, Arizona and joined the Marines, transferring from an artillery unit to play the bugle in the Drum and Bugle Corps. According to the article, Imus received an honorable discharge, despite an incident when he and a friend stole the stars off a general's jeep and put them on their own vehicle.
Imus subsequently had a series of unsuccessful jobs as a miner, gas station attendant, railway brakeman and aspiring rock star.
Imus started as a radio disc jockey in 1968 at KXOA in Sacramento, California. His on-air pranks, such as calling up a restaurant and ordering 1200 hamburgers, made his show immensely popular and boosted ratings.
After a stint at WGAR-AM in Cleveland, Ohio, Imus moved to New York City and WNBC in 1971, where he gained a reputation as a loose cannon who often favored crude humor. During his first stint at WNBC, Imus recorded three record albums, two for the RCA Victor label (1200 Hamburgers to Go, including some of his more enjoyable humor from KXOA, WGAR and WNBC broadcasts, and One Sacred Chicken to Go, a primarily studio-created album centering on his satirical character, The Right Rev. Dr. Billy Sol Hargis), and one for the Bang label (This Honky's Nuts, an album of his standup comedy act at the Manhattan nightclub "Jimmy's"). In 1977, WNBC fired Imus for his cocaine and vodka habits and unprofessionalism; he had missed a hundred days of work in one year.Imus then went to work in Cleveland and cleaned up his act. In 1978, Imus commuted between Cleveland and New York to tape a TV talk show, Imus Plus at WNEW-TV. (The show was nationally syndicated by Metromedia, which owned WNEW at the time). Imus was reinstated in September 1979 as WNBC's morning drive time host.
From 1982 to 1985, the station also employed talk-radio host Howard Stern, and WNBC heavily promoted the pair in print and television ads, which often featured the slogan "If We Weren't So Bad, We Wouldn't Be That Good." Although Stern's show aired later in the day, Imus and Stern often made brief appearances on each other's shows, giving the audience an occasional glimpse of an on- and off-air rivalry that continues to this day.
During this period, Imus was best known for satirical character Billy Sol Hargis, a radio evangelist who was a cross between infamous real-life radio and television preacher Billy James Hargis and real-life Texas fertilizer swindler Billie Sol Estes. As Billy Sol Hargis, Imus touted on-air the merits of the "First Church of the Gooey Death and Discount House of Worship". Imus published the 1981 novel God's Other Son that further depicted Hargis's adventures. The novel was republished in 1994 and spent considerable time on the New York Times bestseller list. Other regular Imus characters included the alleged general manager "Geraldo Santana Banana", and "Moby Worm", a monstrous creature who devoured local schools (which was reported on the show's "breaking news updates").
Imus was also the utility announcer for Geraldo Rivera's monthly TV series Good Night, America, which aired as a recurring segment of ABC's Wide World of Entertainment program. Imus was also the inaugural video jockey for the launch of the VH-1 cable network in 1985.
In 1988, WNBC-AM was sold to Emmis Broadcasting, and consequently, WNBC-AM permanently signed off the air and Emmis's WFAN-AM was moved from 1050 AM to WNBC's former spot, 660 AM. Imus in the Morning remained at 660 AM among WFAN's sports programs. Imus's music and comedy bits were the staples of the program.
Imus had battled alcoholism during his time in New York, but in 1987 finally pursued effective treatment. (As of 2006, he has remained sober for 18 years). In 1988, with his battle with cocaine and alcohol now part of his self-publicity, Imus reshaped his show into a forum for political issues, charitable causes and news-based parodies, while the Billy Sol Hargis routines were phased out. The radio show became nationally syndicated in 1993, and began simulcasting on MSNBC in 1996.
In the 1990s, Imus and his wife Deirdre founded the Imus Ranch, a working cattle ranch near Ribera, New Mexico, 50 miles southeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Imus Ranch is a charitable organization for children with cancer, as well as siblings of SIDS victims. Imus has four daughters from a previous marriage and son Frederick Wyatt from his current marriage. Because Deirdre is vegan, both Imus and Wyatt are vegetarians. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year, the Imus family goes to the New Mexico ranch during which Imus broadcasts from a studio on the ranch, while the rest of his cast broadcasts from New York and New Jersey. In 2000, Imus suffered serious injuries after a fall from a horse at his ranch, and broadcast several shows from a hospital.
He wears a signature cowboy hat during his broadcasts; during his interview on Larry King Live, Imus and Deirdre both wore Western clothing and cowboy hats.
Still keeping to his "shock jock" roots, Imus is a huge friend and supporter of Opie and Anthony. He occasionally wears an Opie and Anthony XM Radio T-shirt during MSNBC broadcasts. Imus has joked that Opie could be his illegitimate son. Imus and Howard Stern, on the other hand, remain unreconciled.
Don Imus’ behavior has increasingly drawn the attention of the press. He famously called Rush Limbaugh "a fat, pill-popping loser" and Lesley Stahl a "gutless, lying weasel." His exchange of insults ("fat pig") regarding his show’s former news reader, Contessa Brewer, recently made news as did Brewer's response ("cantankerous old fool"). When Tucker Carlson brought up Ms Brewer on the program in 2005, Imus hung up on him, calling him "a bowtie-wearing pussy." More recently, his targets have not been so prominent, and his attacks have displayed a more vindictive quality; see Controversies.
Imus, maintaining his 2007 commitment to the U.S. troops fighting overseas, helped raise over $6 million toward Center for the Intrepid, a Texas rehabilitation facility. Considered to be the largest technological center of its kind in the country, it is designed to help treat disabled veterans and help transition them back into the community.
More recently, Imus took on the Veterans Administration when the Washington Post published a story uncovering the deplorable living conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Consequently, Imus's rants preceded many Army resignations, including that of Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army's now former Surgeon General. Kiley apparently lived adjacent to the troubled building; he testified before Congress that he had no idea of the deplorable conditions because performing barrack inspections was not in his job description. This totally outraged Imus, who unleased a daily relentless attack on Kiley's personal fitness for military duty and dedication to his wounded troops.
Don Imus was also a part owner of the Autobody Express with his brother, Fred Imus (a frequent caller to the radio show, commenting on NASCAR races, the NFL and related cultural matters with a drawl even slower than Don's). The Autobody Express stores were located in Santa Fe, New Mexico and inside the Mohegan Sun Native American Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. In 2003, the company failed and both stores closed.
Imus still owns a small coffee/pastry store also located in the Mohegan Sun casino. The Autobody Express became Imus Ranch Foods, which offers its signature chips and salsa via online sales and in Northeastern U.S. stores. The proceeds from Imus Ranch Foods help fund the work of the Imus Ranch.
Like former co-worker and fellow celebrity broadcaster Howard Stern, Don Imus is one of the few persons permitted a license to carry a concealed handgun for his protection in New York City. This license was issued by the New York City Police Department.
Due in part to Howard Stern's historically combative relationship with WNBC, Stern has continued to blast Imus. He takes special offense to the developments in Imus's career that mimicked Stern's earlier moves; i.e., playing less music, creating a staff of adversarial characters that discuss their real lives, expanding the audience via syndication, and bringing TV cameras into the radio studio. Whether or not Imus's moves were influenced by Stern, there is no doubt that his WNBC show and style of comedy changed after Stern's arrival. No reconciliation has occurred, with the two engaging in an ugly name-calling exchange in late 2003.
Imus has recently formed a de facto alliance with syndicated and XM Satellite Radio hosts Opie and Anthony. Much like Imus, Opie and Anthony have had their own storied past with Stern.
Imus threatened Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank with unending harassment for his article that raised questions about New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's tax inquiry into the Imus Ranch in New Mexico. The Journal's editor and publisher have editorialized on what has been called Imus’ "intimidation game" against Frank.
Imus and his crew, Charles McCord and Bernard McGuirk, are frequently accused of racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Imus referred to sports columnist Bill Rhoden as a "New York Times quota hire" and PBS anchor Gwen Ifill as a "cleaning lady". Imus has repeatedly referred to Arabs as "ragheads." He has berated many female newsreaders, most recently Contessa Brewer, which caused her to leave the show. After she left the show, Imus went on a tirade, saying, “With that fat ass she’s got, she wouldn’t be one of ‘em,” (a beautiful woman). Imus said on the air, "That skank has to spend three hours with makeup in the morning." The tirade was also tied to comments that were overheard of Contessa's calling Imus “a cantankerous old fool” at a dinner in a restaurant in 2005, when she was still newsreader.
During Imus's show a producer also made fun of poet Maya Angelou.
IMUS: Or who was that woman you used to do, the poet?
ALL: Maya Angelou.
IMUS: Yeah. We used to get in all that trouble every time you'd do her.
McGUIRK: That's right.
Whitey plucked you from the jungle for too many years
Took away your pride, your dignity, and your spears
IMUS: I don't need any more columns. Come on. But, I mean, that's --
McGUIRK: With freedom came new woes
Into whitey's world you was rudely cast
So wake up now and go to work?
You can kiss my big black ass
Sid Rosenberg, who provided sports updates on the Imus show, got into trouble when he suggested on air that tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams were animals better suited to pose for National Geographic than Playboy and that Palestinians mourning the death of Yasser Arafat were "stinking animals" upon whom the Israelis "ought to drop the bomb right there, kill 'em all right now..." He was fired from the Don Imus show after making crude remarks about Australian singer Kylie Minogue's breast cancer diagnosis, despite the hysterical laughter from his crew. Chris Carlin replaced Sid Rosenberg.
Imus also attracted public attention due to two recent lawsuits. On November 29, 2004 a former nanny, Nichole Mallette, sued Imus for wrongful termination and defamation after a Thanksgiving 2003 incident in which she was allegedly fired and escorted off Imus Ranch property at 4:15 AM. Don and Deirdre Imus were allegedly upset over Mallette's possession of a cap-gun and pocket knife on ranch property.
On July 8, 2005 Dr. Howard Allen Pearson sued Imus for slander and civil assault. Imus allegedly threatened Dr. Pearson during a July 13, 2004 confrontation at the ranch, and subsequently referred to him on air as "an arrogant (expletive) doctor who doesn't mind letting a child suffer".
On March 21, 1996, Imus delivered a speech at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., which Imus and his fans call "The Speech From Hell".
The dinner was attended by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. Imus was expected to deliver a gently humorous speech and not stray into topics considered sensitive for the President or the First Lady. Imus chose not to observe this convention. The initial line of Imus's speech was considered a direct reference to Hillary Clinton, who was at the time involved in a specific aspect of the Whitewater scandal concerning billing records that were discovered just a few weeks before on a table in the resident section of The White House.
"Um.. this is kind of interesting, these don't appear to be my notes.
"Well, nobody just leaves stuff like this just layin' around."
For two weeks in the Fall of 2006, Imus delivered ongoing 'rants' against Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), describing him as "a lying fat little skunk from Texas", a "pipsqueak" and a "coward and a crybaby". Imus also called Barton a "congressional dirtbag", because Barton used his position as a committee chair to prevent passage of the Combating Autism Act, which would authorize funds for autism research. In the weeks before Congress recessed on September 29, 2006, Barton used his chairmanship to prevent the legislative proposal from coming to a vote in the House, rousing the ire of Imus and his wife, staunch supporters of autism research. The bill already had been passed unanimously by the Senate, and had come on the heels of a 2005 declaration by the Centers for Disease Control of an autism epidemic.
During the period January 27–February 2, 2007, Imus attended the dedication of the Center for the Intrepid, a privately-built rehabilitation center for wounded veterans. Imus aided the building of the center by raising over US$10,000,000 and he personally contributed over US$300,000. The dedication received little coverage in prime-time news, a fact that angered Imus. On his show in this period, he argued that Fox Network personalities Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity were too cowardly to attend or cover the dedication because they had supported the Iraq war so vigorously.
On his "Imus In The Morning" show on April 4, 2007, in a conversation with the show's producer Bernard McGuirk, Imus referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." Imus initially dismissed the incident as "some idiot comment meant to be amusing" but apologized on April 6, 2007 after hearing calls for his dismissal. On April 9, 2007, MSNBC and CBS Radio suspended Imus from his radio and television shows for two weeks as a result of his comments.
Media Matters for America, a media watchdog group, quoted Imus and his participants as saying, in part:
Imus: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and . . .
McGuirk: Some hardcore hos.
Imus: That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that now (laughing). Man, that's some ... whoo ...
Two days after the incident, Imus issued this statement:
"I want to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived remark we made the other morning regarding the Rutgers women's basketball team, which lost to Tennessee in the NCAA championship game on Tuesday. It was completely inappropriate and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we are sorry."
April 9, 2007
* Imus appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton's syndicated radio talk show to address the Rutgers controversy. Sharpton called the comments "abominable" and "racist" and repeated his demand that Imus be fired. Imus said, "Our agenda is to be funny and sometimes we go too far. And this time we went way too far. Here's what I've learned: that you can't make fun of everybody, because some people don't deserve it."
* Rev. Jesse Jackson and about 50 other people marched Monday outside the Chicago offices of NBC, the General Electric Co. subsidiary that owns MSNBC, carrying signs and shouting "Imus must go." Rev. Jackson said that Don Imus' comments contribute to "a climate of degradation" and stem from a lack of blacks as program hosts.
* The Woman's Media Center (WMC), a non-profit women's media organization, also spoke out against Imus' comments in an exclusive article on their website.
* Former Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken, Jr. was scheduled to appear on Imus' show later in that week to promote two books he wrote, but he has decided not to appear after learning of Imus' remarks. "In light of recent remarks made on the program, Cal will not appear on the show as part of his national book tour," Ripken's publicist John Maroon said.
* Brian Williams announced on the broadcast of the NBC Nightly News that Imus will not be simulcasted on MSNBC beginning on April 16, 2007 for two weeks as a result of comments made about the Rutgers Women's Basketball team on the show. Imus has requested a meeting between him and the team.
* CBS Radio, which owns the New York sports station that produces "Imus in the Morning," announced that it will, too, suspend Imus for two weeks. The MSNBC and CBS Radio announcements came toward the end of a day in which the calls for Imus' dismissal grew louder, despite his pledge to curtail offensive remarks on his show.
April 10, 2007
* The basketball team held a news conference where the coach stated that the team will meet with Imus to discuss his comments. Imus stated that his suspension was appropriate. However, critics continued to demand that he be fired.
* Staples Inc., Bigelow Tea Company, and Procter & Gamble Co. have stopped advertising on Imus' morning show to protest his racially charged remarks about the women's basketball team.
* Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, who once had Imus take a pledge not to engage in racist talk, said of the Imus' two-week suspension, "This sends a very bad signal and it's a bad use of the public airwaves. And, frankly, I don't think it's even fair to other shock jocks who've lost their jobs over doing a lot less."
* The Today Show's Al Roker said on his show's official blog that it was time for Imus to go. "I, for one, am really tired of the diatribes, the 'humor' at others' expense, the cruelty that passes for 'funny' ", Roker said.
* James Carville, the former aide to Bill Clinton, said he was "sickened" by what Don Imus said, but like many other Imus supporters, "could not in good conscience turn my back on a man who's been a friend of mine that long." "This is a very upsetting thing to me. I'm usually on the same side. I'll be much more comfortable being with Reverend Jackson, I understand completely where he is. But, yes, I would go on his show. . . . I feel the pain he's in. I would say he deserves it, given what he said, but I think that — I believe in redemption. I believe that we've got to use this to do better," Carville said.
Imus won three Marconi Awards, two for Major Market Personality of the Year (1992 and 1997) and one for Network Syndicated Personality (1994).
* Imus, Donald. God's Other Son. Simon & Schuster, 1994. (ISBN 0-684-80166-3). (Originally published in 1981 (ISBN 0-671-22537-5).)
* Imus, Donald, and Imus, Fred. Two Guys Four Corners: Great Photographs, Great Times, and a Million Laughs. Villard, 1997. (ISBN 0-679-45307-5).
* Imus, Deirdre. The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys. Rodale Press, 2004. (ISBN 0-87596-919-4).
* Reed, Jim. Everything Imus: All You Ever Wanted to Know About Don Imus. Birch Lane Press, 1999. (ISBN 1-55972-504-4).
* Tracy, Kathleen. Imus: America's Cowboy. Carroll & Graf, 1999. (ISBN 0-7867-0608-2).