Don Imus, a legendary Talk radio host who became famous for his morning show at the former WNBC-AM in New York and, later, at WFAN, died Friday morning from complications tied to prostate cancer.
He was 79 years old.
According to media reports, Imus was hospitalized Christmas Eve at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center, in College Station, Tex. An exact cause of death was not immediately known. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer 10 years ago, but was also a heavy smoker who suffered through years of drug and alcohol abuse.
For years, the syndicated Imus in the Morning program attracted a loyal following of older men, who were magnetized by the host’s acerbic politically tinged comedy and bits that had its origins in the 1970s, when Imus was one of the most well-known — and controversial — radio stars in Cleveland and in New York.
His syndicated show was brought to radio stations across the U.S. by ABC Radio Networks and, later, via Cumulus Media. It was also simulcast on the Fox Business Network for a period.
In a statement provided to the Hollywood Reporter, the Imus family said Don “loved and adored” his wife Deirdre. It also noted his support for children with cancer through the Imus Ranch.
The family will be holding a small, private funeral, Radio Ink reports.
Imus’ career included highs and lows. In 2007, CBS Radio and MSNBC reacted to comments made by the host considered derogatory toward members of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team by dropping Imus in the Morning.
He would find a radio home at WABC-AM 770, and syndication via Cumulus predecessor Citadel. On the TV side, RFD-TV in November 2007 signed a five-year agreement to simulcast Imus in the Morning.
Perhaps the height of Imus’ career in radio was in the early 1980s, when he served as the morning host of WNBC-AM 660 in New York. His reign at the top of the ratings was challenged, however, by the arrival on Aug. 30, 1982, of Howard Stern as the eventual afternoon host.
Imus in the Morning first found a home in New York at WNBC in 1971. It was very “in-your-face” and pre-“shock jock” at a time when the most edgy hosts in radio had been the late Bob Crane at KNX-AM in Los Angeles during the 1960s.
Imus joined WNBC just three years after starting his career at KUTY-AM in Palmdale, Calif. He then, briefly, worked at KJOY in Stockton, and then at KXOA/Sacramento. In 1970, he was hired by WGAR in Cleveland, where he found a following.
That led him to WNBC, where he began on a December morning 48 years ago. He reportedly had a $100,000 per year salary — in 1972.
By the mid-1970s, alcoholism began to interfere with Imus’ abilities to shine as a host. By August 1977, NBC had had enough, and dismissed him and much of the other air staff. He returned to Cleveland, taking afternoons at WHK, in 1978. But, in September 1979, Imus made a grand return to New York that included a famous TV campaign begging listeners not to send him back to Cleveland.
Even with personal issues that had only increased, including drug use, Imus stayed at WNBC until its sign-off in October 1988. In fact, he stayed on the frequency as the lone remnant of ‘NBC as WFAN-AM took over the dial position after its move from 1050 kHz and shift in ownership to Emmis Communications.
It was in June 1993 that Imus in the Morning became nationally syndicated, with WEEI in Boston among the first to take the show.
It was in March 2009 that Imus revealed to listeners that he had been diagnosed with stage two prostate cancer.
Years later, with controversies behind him and cancer his biggest challenge, Imus’ following began to wane. This, coupled with financial challenges at Cumulus, led the host to retire on March 29, 2018; his contract was up in December 2018.
Don Imus is preceded in death by his younger brother, Fred, who passed away on August 6, 2011 at the age of 69.