- Category : Radio Host
- Type : ME
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Distraction 1
John Donald "Don" Imus, Jr. (born July 23, 1940) is an American radio host, humorist, philanthropist and writer. His nationally syndicated talk show, Imus in the Morning, is broadcast throughout the United States by Cumulus Media Networks and simulcast on television by the Fox Business Network.
Imus was born in Riverside, California, the son of Frances E. (née Moore) and John Donald Imus, Sr. older brother of Fred Imus. He was raised on a sprawling cattle ranch called The Willows near Kingman, Arizona. He served in the Marine Corps as a bugler from 1957 to 1960.
Imus battled alcoholism during his early career in New York, but in 1987 finally pursued effective treatment. (As of 2013, he has remained sober for 26 years). In 1988, with his cocaine and alcohol addictions now legendary in show business, Imus reshaped his show from strictly comedy into a forum for political issues, charitable causes and news-based parodies.
In 1979, he divorced his first wife, Harriet. He married his second wife, Deirdre Coleman on December 17, 1994. He has two stepdaughters that he adopted from his first marriage (Nadine and Tony), two daughters from that marriage (Ashly and Elizabeth), three grandchildren (two from Elizabeth and one from Ashley), and one son, Frederick Wyatt (nicknamed Wyatt, born July 3, 1998), from his current marriage. Both Don and Deirdre Imus are vegetarians.
In 1999, Imus and his wife founded the Imus Ranch, a working 4,000-acre (16 km2) cattle ranch near Ribera, New Mexico, 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Santa Fe, for children with cancer, as well as siblings of SIDS victims. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year, the Imus family volunteers their time at the Imus ranch. Imus continues his broadcasts from a studio there, while the rest of his cast broadcast from New York. In 2000, Imus suffered serious injuries after a fall from a horse at his ranch, and broadcast several shows from a hospital.
Imus maintains three residences; an apartment in Manhattan, a waterfront mansion valued at $13.5 million, in Westport, Connecticut, and the Imus Ranch in Ribera, New Mexico.
On March 16, 2009, Imus announced on his radio show that he had been diagnosed with stage two prostate cancer.
Imus was a brakeman on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Upon winning a talent contest at Johnny Otis's nightclub, he began working as a singer/songwriter, managed by Otis. After hearing a morning disc-jockey, he went to the nearby radio station and persuaded the owner to hire him. Thus he began his career as a radio disc jockey on June 28, 1968 at radio station KUTY in Palmdale, California. He stayed at the station until 1969 when he left for a job at KJOY, a small radio station in Stockton, California. He was later fired for saying "hell" on air. After being fired in Stockton, he went to KXOA in Sacramento, California. His on-air pranks, such as calling up a restaurant and ordering 1200 hamburgers to go, made his show immensely popular and boosted ratings. He was inspired to pursue a career in radio by listening to California radio personality Don MacKinnon.
Imus in the Morning
After a stint at WGAR (AM) radio in Cleveland, Ohio, Imus moved to New York City and WNBC radio in December 1971. During this first stint at WNBC, Imus recorded three record albums, two for the RCA Victor label (1200 Hamburgers to Go, including some of his more popular "humor" from KXOA, WGAR and WNBC broadcasts, and One Sacred Chicken to Go with Anthrax, 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 stand up comedy act at the Manhattan nightclub "Jimmy's"). There was also a 1973 RCA Victor single, "Son of Checkers," issued by Imus.
Imus was fired from WNBC in August 1977 along with several of the station's other personalities, in an effort to revamp the station's sound and boost ratings. In 1978 he returned to Cleveland radio as afternoon drive host on WHK, making the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on his first day back in town. During that year, 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, then the owner of WNEW-TV, as well as the prior owner of WHK until earlier in the decade.)
In a surprise change of fortune Imus was rehired by WNBC in September 1979, and revived his morning drive show. 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 So 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 continued for many years.
During this period, Imus was best known for character Billy Sol Hargis, a radio evangelist whose name was a cross between infamous real-life radio and television preacher Billy James Hargis and real-life Texas fertilizer swindler Billie Sol Estes. As Hargis, Imus touted on-air the merits of the "First Church of the Gooey Death and Discount House of Worship". Imus published the 1981 best-selling novel God's Other Son that further depicted Hargis' adventures. The novel was republished in 1994 by popular demand and spent seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Other regular Imus characters included the supposed general manager "Geraldo Santana Banana" (played by doo-wop singer Larry Chance), 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, and he was one of the inaugural video jockeys for the launch of the VH-1 cable network in 1985.
In 1988, WNBC radio was sold to Emmis Broadcasting; on October 7, 1988, WNBC permanently signed off the air and Emmis' WFAN 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 with his music and comedy bits as the staples of the program and the beginnings of a political forum.
The radio show became nationally syndicated in 1993, and began simulcasting on MSNBC in 1996. He wore his signature cowboy hat during his broadcasts.
Imus’s behavior has often drawn the attention of the press. He famously called Rush Limbaugh "a fat, pill-popping loser" and a "drug-addled gas bag", and Lesley Stahl a "gutless, lying weasel." His comedic exchange of quips ("fat pig") regarding his show’s former news reader, Contessa Brewer, made news, as did Brewer's response ("cantankerous old fool"). When Tucker Carlson brought up Brewer on the program in 2005, Imus hung up on him, calling him "a bowtie-wearing little pussy."
While on the air during the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Imus in the Morning program was among the few live American broadcasts to continue airing commercials well after the first reports of the attack. While speaking live with famed sportscaster Warner Wolf, who was being interviewed by Imus from his high-rise apartment with direct sight to the World Trade Center, the second plane hit the towers with Mr. Wolf literally giving play-by-play. The commercials that continued to air included one for a major airline, Continental, along with a jeweler based in the World Trade Center, and a spot read "live" on the air for a broadcasting school, in which it was said careers in broadcasting were "exploding." Imus noted the irony, but continued reading the spot. His production staff of 13 years also had great difficulty in simulcasting live TV news coverage when requested by Imus. This staff stayed with Imus after the MSNBC debacle and moved with him to the new ABC/RFD-TV arrangement. Imus is still plagued by technical difficulties, which have become part of his daily comedy diatribe.
Imus was instrumental in raising over $60 million for the Center for the Intrepid, a Texas rehabilitation facility for soldiers wounded in the Iraq War. The largest technological center of its kind in the country, it is designed to help treat disabled veterans and help them with their transition back into the community. Imus has also taken on the cause of the living conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, visiting wounded veterans at the hospital to boost morale. Imus' reporting preceded Army resignations, including that of Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, then Army Surgeon General. Imus had earlier criticized Kiley's personal fitness for military duty and dedication to wounded soldiers.
Rutgers women's basketball controversy
On April 4, 2007, during a discussion about the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship, Imus characterized the Rutgers University women's basketball team players as "rough girls" commenting on their tattoos. His executive producer Bernard McGuirk responded by referring to them as "hardcore hos". The discussion continued with Imus describing the girls as "nappy-headed hos" and McGuirk remarking that the two teams looked like the "jigaboos versus the wannabes" mentioned in Spike Lee's film, School Daze; apparently referring to the two teams' differing appearances.
After outrage from the initial reports, Imus dismissed the incident as "some idiot comment meant to be amusing". He also stated that "nappy-headed hoes" is a term that rap artists use to refer to African-American women. He said:
"That phrase nappy-headed ho didn't originate in the White Community. That phrase originated in the Black community. Young Black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected by their own Black men, and they are called that name in Black hip hop."
In response to mounting public censure, Imus issued a statement of apology:
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.
On April 9, Imus appeared on Al Sharpton's syndicated radio talk show, Keepin It Real with Al Sharpton to address the controversy. Sharpton called the comments "abominable", "racist", and "sexist", and repeated his earlier 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."
Shortly thereafter Imus was suspended. Media commentators were divided on the suspension: on MSNBC's Scarborough Country on April 10, for example, Pat Buchanan said that Imus is "a good guy... who made a bad mistake and apologized for it" and that the show should stay on the air. Comedian Bill Maher said that if a comedian apologizes for stepping over a line, that should suffice. Steve Adubato, an MSNBC media analyst, disagreed, saying that this incident was "not isolated". Joe Klein made the same charge, referring to Imus's comment about New York Times reporter Gwen Ifill 14 years before as evidence of a pattern of offensive comments. On The View, Rosie O'Donnell spoke out in support of keeping Imus on the air on free speech grounds, while Emil Steiner of The Washington Post argued that Al Sharpton used the issue to further divide America along racial lines.
The Rutgers basketball team held a news conference at which coach C. Vivian Stringer stated that the team would meet with Imus to discuss his comments. Several of the players expressed their outrage over his remarks. Team captain Essence Carson said Imus' remarks had "stolen a moment of pure grace from us".
African American Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, at one time a frequent guest, once had confronted Imus about his characterization of certain black athletes and got Imus to take a pledge to stop. After the Rutgers team incident, Page said he would not appear on the show again and said of the original two-week suspension:
I know other stations... some shock jock who lost his job for less than this, or been at least suspended for a month or two. Why does Don, a repeat offender, keep getting away with it? I want to know.
CBS board member and former NAACP president Bruce S. Gordon said that Imus should not be allowed to come back even after the suspension, claiming that his remarks "crossed the line, a very bright line that divides our country."
On April 11, 2007, Steve Capus of NBC News, announced that MSNBC would no longer simulcast Imus in the Morning, effective immediately. While the decision came on the same day that a few advertisers left Imus, the network also said employee concerns played a role. Sen. (and at the time presidential candidate) Barack Obama, and several high-profile NBC African-American personalities, including Al Roker previously a friendly guest on the show, opposed Imus's return. The absence and silence from Imus's frequent NBC guests Brian Williams, Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory, Chris Matthews and close friend Tim Russert was too obvious to ignore and foreshadowed NBC's future action.
In announcing the decision, Steve Capus, President of NBC News, said:
These comments were deeply hurtful to many, many people. And we've had any number of employee conversations, discussions, emails, phone calls. And when you listen to the passion and the people who come to the conclusion that there should not be any room for this sort of conversation and dialogue on our air, it was the only decision we could reach.
The next day, CBS Radio canceled Imus in the Morning, effective immediately. CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves stated:
From the outset, I believe all of us have been deeply upset and revulsed by the statements that were made on our air about the young women who represented Rutgers University in the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship with such class, energy and talent. There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society. That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision.
The day before, CBS chairman Sumner Redstone said he trusted Moonves would "do the right thing," but didn't elaborate. Moonves had met with Sharpton and Jesse Jackson shortly before the announcement was made.
In an internal memo, Moonves said that employee concerns were a factor in the decision to cancel Imus's show, but also said that the decision was "about a lot more than Imus." Moonves said that CBS had to take Imus off the air in order to change "a culture that permits a certain level of objectionable expression that hurts and demeans a wide range of people."
Seven sponsors had either pulled their ads outright or suspended advertising on Imus's show to protest his remarks — General Motors (Imus's biggest advertiser), Staples Inc., GlaxoSmithKline, Sprint Nextel, PetMeds , American Express and Procter & Gamble. One other advertiser, Bigelow Tea, expressed uncertainty at renewing their ads with Imus's show.
Just hours after the announcement of his firing, Imus met with Stringer and her team at Drumthwacket, the New Jersey governor's mansion. The three-hour meeting was arranged by Buster Soaries, the former New Jersey Secretary of State and Stringer's pastor. New Jersey governor Jon Corzine planned to attend the meeting but was injured in a car accident on the way to the meeting. Imus left without commenting, but Stringer said the meeting went well. She later commented that they had accepted Imus's apology, and "It would sadden me for anyone to lose their job,... And he came to the meeting in spite of the fact that he lost his job. So let's give him credit for that." She also emphasized that the basketball team had not called for Imus to be fired.
CBS was criticized by some as being too harsh for canceling Imus's show. Senator John Kerry said a "long suspension" would be "appropriate to pay a price on the airwaves but I’m not sure that it was appropriate to say you’re off forever."
By May 2, 2007, Imus had hired prominent attorney Martin Garbus to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit against CBS for the remaining $40 million on his five-year contract. The contract contained a clause indicating CBS hired and supported Imus to exhibit "irreverent" and "controversial" programming.
On August 14, 2007, CBS announced a settlement with Imus on his $40 million contract. On the same day, Rutgers basketball player Kia Vaughn, one of the women involved in the controversy, filed suit against Don Imus, NBC Universal, CBS Corporation, MSNBC, CBS Radio, Viacom, Westwood One radio, and Bernard McGuirk, citing slander, libel, and defamation of character. Vaughn was the only player to pursue legal damages brought on by the controversy. Vaughn dropped the lawsuit against Imus on September 11, 2007, citing her desire to concentrate on her studies and basketball training.
Return to radio and television
On July 8, 2007, the Drudge Report indicated that Imus would return to the air before the 2008 presidential election. The New York Post reported on July 16, 2007, that Imus was in search of a black comedian to join the show upon its return to help cushion racially insensitive comments he might say on the air. The same paper reported on July 27, 2007, that CBS was close to a buyout of Imus's contract. The report also said Imus's representatives had contacted Buckley Broadcasting, Citadel Broadcasting, and Clear Channel Communications. On August 14, Imus reached a settlement with CBS Radio over his contract, leaving him free to pursue other media opportunities.
On November 1, Citadel announced they had agreed to what was reportedly a multi-year syndication contract with Imus. The new Imus in the Morning program would be distributed nationally by Citadel Media, and would be based at Citadel-owned WABC in New York City, beginning in December. On November 14, the New York Times reported that Imus had agreed to terms with cable network RFD-TV to air a video simulcast of the new radio program. Charles McCord and Bernard McGuirk have joined Imus in the new version of the show. On December 3, Imus returned to the airwaves on ABC Radio and RFD-TV. When asked about Imus's return to radio, Al Sharpton said in an interview, "We’ll monitor him; I’m not saying I’m going to throw a banquet for him and say welcome home. He has the right to make a living, but because he has such a consistent pattern with this we are going to monitor him to make sure he doesn’t do it again." On April 4, 2008, Jesse Jackson appeared on "Imus in the Morning" to discuss the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King—a booking that would have seemed impossible nearly a year before, when Jackson joined 50 demonstrators in Chicago demanding that "Imus Must Go." Many media commentators declared Don Imus's rehabilitation complete.
In 2008, Little Richard appeared as a guest artist on "The Imus Ranch Record," to help raise funds to benefit sick and dying children, as well as to debunk the notion that Imus was racist. In September of that year, Imus signed a multi-year deal with Fox Business Network to simulcast his radio show Imus in the Morning. The program airs Monday through Friday from 6–9 AM ET and was first broadcast on October 5, 2009.
In March 2009, Imus was diagnosed with stage 2 Prostate cancer. Although a report stating his condition was released and a story about his condition was reported in the national media outlets, no further information has been made available or has been reported to the public as of late 2010.
Reaction from presidential candidates
On January 11, 2007, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), an occasional guest on Imus in the Morning, announced his candidacy in the 2008 Presidential Election while speaking with Imus on his daily program. Less than three months later, Dodd would publicly chastise Imus during the Rutgers controversy. Dodd later returned and appeared on-air for Imus's first broadcast following his return on WABC, though nothing was mentioned of his prior criticism of Imus. In addition to Dodd, the first week of Imus's return to broadcasting also saw the return of presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain, Governor Mike Huckabee, and Governor Bill Richardson to his show. 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry also appeared. A politician notably lacking in support was Harold Ford, Jr., whom Imus had supported during Ford's losing 2006 Senate campaign. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both voiced their distaste for Imus's remarks, and both publicly supported his firing.
Adam "Pacman" Jones controversy
On June 23, 2008, controversy again surrounded Imus when he made the following statements regarding the suspension of Cowboys' cornerback, Adam Jones.
Warner Wolf: Defensive back Adam "Pacman" Jones, recently signed by the Cowboys, here's a guy suspended all of 2007, following a shooting in a Vegas nightclub.
Don Imus: Well, stuff happens. You're in a nightclub, for God's sake. What do you think is gonna happen in a nightclub. People are drinking, and doing drugs. There are women there and people have guns. So there, go ahead.
Warner Wolf: Also, he's been arrested six times since being drafted by Tennessee in 2005.
Don Imus: What color is he?
Warner Wolf: He's African-American.
Don Imus: Well there you go, now we know.
In response, Jones said, "I'm truly upset about the comments. Obviously Mr. Imus has problems with African-Americans. I'm upset, and I hope the station he works for handles it accordingly. I will pray for him."
Imus said his comments were misinterpreted. Through his spokesman, Imus said, "I meant that he was being picked on because he's black."
Phil Boyce, vice president of WABC and Citadel Broadcasting Corp., said it was unlikely that disciplinary action would be pursued against Imus, and none was.
Imus has a long-standing rivalry with Howard Stern, dating back to when they both worked at WNBC.
For two weeks in the Fall of 2006, Imus delivered ongoing 'rants' against Texas Congressman Joe Barton, 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, but Barton opposed the Senate bill's stipulation that centers of excellence investigate environmental factors.
Imus was sued by the wife of Boston Herald columnist and radio talk show host Howie Carr in 1998 after Imus made sexually explicit remarks about her and boxer Riddick Bowe. Imus reportedly made the remarks after being told that Carr had said that Imus "would die before his kid got out of high school"; Carr denies making those remarks. Carr, represented by Alan Dershowitz, received an out of court settlement from Imus.
Imus also attracted public attention due to two 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 his 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. Pearson accused Imus of threatening him during a July 13, 2004 confrontation at the ranch, and Imus subsequently referred to him on air as "an arrogant fucking doctor who doesn't mind letting a child suffer".
Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner speech
On March 21, 1996, Imus delivered a speech at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., which Imus later called "The Speech From Hell".
The dinner was attended by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. 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.
(audience applause) Thank you very much.
Um...this is kind of interesting, these don't appear to be my notes. [picking up papers from the lectern] You still have the folder I gave you? Where did this come from? [gesturing with the papers]
Well, nobody just leaves stuff like this just layin' around. [audience laughter, then slowly looks at Hillary, audience laughs]
Later on, Imus commented on the President saying "Go baby!" while doing radio play-by-play at an Orioles game, and added, "I remember commenting at the time, I bet that's not the first time he's said that."
Accusations of defamatory speech
As "shock jocks", Imus and his crew, mainly Bernard McGuirk, repeatedly made controversial remarks through skits and character impersonations in what they considered a comical format which critics labeled as racist, misogynist, homophobic and anti-semitic Xenophobia. He has also been accused of making offensive remarks off the air. Some examples include:
In a 1984 interview, answering a question about Howard Stern, Don Imus said: "yes, Howard's a slut too, Lloyd...Plus a Jew bastard, and should be castrated... put in an oven." A clip of this interview was played by Howard Stern in the news section of his November 5, 2007 show.
Imus referred to African-American sports columnist Bill Rhoden as a "New York Times quota hire".
In 1993, Imus referred to PBS anchor Gwen Ifill (then with the New York Times) as a "cleaning lady."
As reported by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, in the course of a 1998 interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, Imus told a producer off-camera that McGuirk was hired to perform "nigger jokes."
Robin Quivers claimed that when she worked with Imus at WNBC, he called her a "nigger" to her face. Both Howard Stern and Quivers have also claimed that he screamed "Nigger, nigger!" at a black secretary named Brenda during their time at WNBC.
Imus has also 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 news 'babe'.. Imus said on the air, "That skank has to spend three hours with makeup in the morning." The tirade was allegedly tied to comments overheard from Contessa's calling Imus "a cantankerous old fool" at a 2005 dinner in a restaurant when she was still a newsreader. During a show a producer also made fun of poet Maya Angelou.
The show's routines sometimes contained derogatory epithets for homosexuals, including "faggot" and various terms describing homosexuality.
Imus has also made fun of Irish, Jews, Italians, other ethnicities and all political positions.
Imus referred to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich as "disgusting" and a "fat repulsive pig."
Don Imus was also a part owner of Autobody Express stores with his brother, Fred (a frequent caller to the radio show, commenting on NASCAR races, the NFL and related pop culture matters). The Autobody Express stores were located in Santa Fe, 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 stores. The proceeds from Imus Ranch Foods help fund the work of the Imus Ranch.
Imus won four Marconi Awards, three for Major Market Personality of the Year (1990, 1992 and 1997 and one for Network Syndicated Personality (1994).
Imus was named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America in Time magazine (April 21, 1997).
He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1989. In 2002, Talkers magazine ranked Imus as one of the 25 greatest radio talk show hosts of all time.