Don Imus Biography

Children's Activist, Radio Talk Show Host, Writer, Philanthropist, Disc Jockey(1940–)
John Donald "Don" Imus is a radio personality famous for his "insult humor" as well as a philanthropist working to help children with cancer and other groups.

Synopsis

Don Imus was born July 23, 1940, in Riverside, California and raised on a cattle ranch in Arizona. Despite early hardships and struggles with addiction, he won fame as a radio host for his controversial humor and continues to be an influential figure in broadcasting. With his wife, he runs the Imus Ranch for children with cancer and blood disorders. Imus was diagnosed with cancer himself in 2009.

Early Life

Radio personality, philanthropist. Born John Donald Imus on July 23, 1940, in Riverside, California. Imus and his younger brother Fred were raised in California and Prescott, Arizona, where his father owned a cattle ranch. After a self-described "horrible adolescence" in which he changed schools frequently and his parents divorced when he was 15, Imus left high school and joined the Marine Corps band.

After his discharge at the age of 19, Imus had several unsuccessful stints as a window dresser and a rock 'n' roll musician. For a time, he was homeless, and found shelter in laundromats. In 1961, Imus hitchhiked to Arizona, where he worked in uranium and copper mines, made another attempt at a recording career, and worked as a brakeman for Southern Pacific Railroad. An injury sustained on the job earned him a cash settlement and a chance to play music while working as a disc jockey.

Imus in the Morning

Imus got his start as a radio host at a small station in Palmdale, California, in 1968. After establishing himself and his brand of witty, somewhat coarse, and controversial humor, he moved on to Cleveland, Ohio. During an on-air gag in California, where he ordered 1,200 hamburgers from a fast-food restaurant, Imus earned the distinction of inspiring a new Federal Communications Commission ruling that demanded radio personalities to identify themselves when telephoning listeners. In Cleveland, his style earned legions of fans—as well as a number of critics who urged the boycott of his show.

In 1971, Imus made the move to WNBC in New York City, where he continued his brand of "insult humor" on his new radio show "Imus in the Morning." Imus' cast of everyday characters included news reporter Charles McCord, producer Bernard McGuirk, sports reporter Mike Breen, and his brother Fred, a frequent call-in guest commentator. With Imus' penchance for ridicule came the birth of radio "shock jocks." No one was exempt from his mockery, including the station's management, and his own sponsors. When self-proclaimed "media king" Howard Stern was still in high school in the early 1970s, Don Imus was making a name for himself as a flippant, offensive, opinionated, rebellious, yet humorously insightful loud mouth. Though at the top of his game on-air, Imus battled addictions to alcohol and drugs, and became unreliable and difficult to work with. In 1971 alone, he missed 100 days of work due to unrestrained imbibing. He was fired in 1977 for absenteeism.

Talk Show Fame

Imus returned to Cleveland and made his first stab at recovery. He was subsequently brought back to New York in 1979, only to return to his addictions. Despite his chemical dependencies, Imus's morning show thrived for several years before he finally sought treatment again in 1987. That same year, WFAN all-sports radio bought WNBC, but opted to retain Imus's show upon his return from a treatment program. When the show initially dropped in the ratings, Imus decided to eliminate music from his show entirely and go to an all-talk format. With his affinity for frank and unpretentious social and political commentary, along with his usual gags and pranks, Imus earned new fans and once again became a hit, paving the way for similar comedy-news morning shows. Critics admired his ability to simultaneously get away with coarse and seemingly irreverent banter, and also attract respectable and serious politicians and other guests to his show. Not only that, but, as one reviewer noted, he was able to elicit relaxed and uncommonly forthcoming answers from his otherwise guarded guests such as Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey; prior NYC mayors David N. Dinkins and Rudolph W. Giuliani; Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press; and President Bill Clinton.

This success earned Imus numerous recognitions, including four Marconi Awards, two Major Market Personality of the Year awards, one of Time magazine's "Most Influential Americans" awards (1997), Major Market Personality of the Year, and an award for Syndicated Personality of the Year. Imus also became a member of the Emerson Radio Hall of Fame (1989) and the National Association of Broadcasters Broadcasting Hall of Fame (1996). Additionally, Imus has written several books including God's Other Son (1981/1994) and two books he co-authored with his brother Fred Imus, including Two Guys Four Corners (1997) and Big Guy Country (2001).

A biting and, some say, unacceptably insulting speech at the Radio-Television Correspondents Association dinner in Washington D.C. in 1996, earned Imus new fans and dissenters alike. He was particularly harsh toward President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, both of whom were in attendance. Imus' defended his behavior with the assertion that he refused to be a hypocrite.

Controversial Comments

Despite the heavy criticism, Imus has refused to hold back his opinions, both on and off the air. His habit of making cutting, off-the-cuff statements has landed him in hot water in many times, and made him the target of several lawsuits—including one in 2004 regarding his negative comments about a doctor. But his derogatory remarks about the Rutgers University's women's basketball team members in 2007 brought unprecedented ramifications to Imus's career.

A few days after the insulting statements were broadcast, Don Imus told his listeners that he wanted "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. It was completely inappropriate, and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we are sorry." He also appeared on the Reverend Al Sharpton's syndicated radio program in another effort to apologize for his comment. But these efforts did not quiet the outrage over his remark in the African-American community, with such public figures as Barack Obama speaking out about the situation.

After more than 30 years on the air, Imus' outrageous outburst brought his radio career to a temporary end. Initially, CBS Radio suspended Imus for two weeks, but later decided to fire him. On August 14, 2007, Imus reached a settlement with CBS over his multimillion-dollar contract. Terms were not disclosed, although it reportedly forbade him from speaking negatively about his former employer.

Imus returned to the airwaves December 3, 2007, eight months after it looked like a racist and sexist remark would end his broadcasting career. He called his remarks in April "reprehensible" and said the women were "innocent people" who didn't deserve to be mocked. He also vowed that his program would not change.

Philanthropy

Imus has come a long way since he first took to the airwaves in 1968. Sober for more than 20 years, Imus now exercises each day and eats a vegen diet. Despite his cantankerous reputation, Imus's philanthropy is heart-felt and extensive. He and his second wife, Deirdre, have run the Imus Ranch in New Mexico, a summer camp program for children suffering from cancer or blood disorders, and young people who have lost siblings to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) since 1999. The focus of the ranch is to restore the self-esteem and emotional well-being to these children through their participation in the working cattle ranch.

As founder of the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at New Jersey's Hackensack University Medical Center, the Imuses are also committed to reducing the number of carcinogens and toxins exposed to children. To aid this mission, the Imuses have created an environmentally safe product line called "Greening the Cleaning." The proceeds from the products go directly to the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center has won numerous awards for inventing and promoting the cleaning supplies, including an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Since 1988, Imus has also been involved in Tomorrow's Children Foundation, a New Jersey based charity for children with cancer and blood disorders, as well as with the CJ Foundation, an organization which supports SIDS research and educational efforts. Over the years, Imus has raised millions of dollars for these organizations. In 2007, Imus raised over $6 million dollars to build the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation center for U.S. veterans returning from war. Imus's on-air musings regarding the association between mercury based vaccines and autism also lent support to the Combating Autism Act.

In Recent Years

Imus has faced some health challenges lately. On March 16, 2009, Imus announced to his audience that he was diagnosed with Stage II prostate cancer. More recently, he has battled some respiratory problems. Imus even put his beloved New Mexico ranch on the market in late 2014 because of its high elevation. He explained to the Albuquerque Journal that "It's difficult to breathe there" and he requires "oxygen all the time" while staying at the ranch. 

The same year of his cancer diagnosis, Imus made his debut on Fox Business Network. His Imus in the Morning program airs on the channel as well as being broadcast as a syndicated radio show. Imus’ radio contract expires at the end of 2015 at which time he’ll be 75.

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