In a roller-coaster profession in which he grew chummy with popular politicians, repeatedly got suspended or fired for offending cracks, abused drugs and promoted organic food, Mr. Imus won a faithful following, made millions and changed himself from a bad-boy DJ into a host whose program became an almost obligatory stop for presidential prospects.
In his later years on the radio and on TV, Mr. Imus originated a form of talk show that went both low and high, grabbing inexpensive yuks even as he produced a place in popular culture for discussion of serious literary and political topics.
By breaking the stiff format of Leading 40 hit-music radio and injecting brash, profane satire, Mr. Imus opened the door to a generation of even coarser radio DJs and talk show hosts, such as Howard Stern, “Mancow” Muller, and Opie and Anthony. And by turning his show into a raucous beauty parlor for Washington political leaders and news celebs, Mr. Imus produced a bridge in between the nation’s leaders and disaffected citizens who mainly tuned away from politics.
Mr. Imus, understood to listeners as “Imus in the Morning” and “the I-man,” was a high school dropout, a railroad worker and a singer-songwriter who rattled around playing Top 40 records on tiny California AM radio stations in the late 1960 s. As “Jay Jay Imus,” he tape-recorded pop tunes with his sibling Fred.
He rapidly discovered that wild pranks and bad behavior were a guaranteed path to big rankings and prevalent honor. He got fired from a station in Stockton, Calif., for stating “hell” on the air; in later years, that would be one of the milder cusswords in his collection.
In 1969, at KXOA in Sacramento, he phoned a McDonald’s and, posing as a National Guard sergeant feeding his hungry soldiers, bought 1,200 hamburgers to go– “now listen, on 300 of those, I desire you to hold the mustard but placed on lots of mayonnaise and lettuce.” The whole zany exchange aired live on the radio.
Impersonating a “Mr. Huey,” he called the Tyde Dyde Diaper Service seeking extra-extra-large diapers for his exceedingly big infant, whose name, it ended up, was “Child Huey.”
Even in those early shows, Mr. Imus was developing towards harder-edged fare that would win him prestige in a less innocent era. He greeted young female callers with a leering “Are you naked?” He spoofed evangelicals with his lunatic preacher character, the Right Rev. Billy Sol Hargis, pastor of the First Church of the Gooey Death and Discount Rate House of Praise. He imitated NBC News anchorman David Brinkley in bits satirizing politicians.
At his best, the husky-voiced Mr. Imus created memorable funny that won comparisons with timeless radio performers such as Stan Freberg or Bob and Ray. At the exact same time, Mr. Imus was offered to unsightly individual attacks and racial slurs that decreased his track record and derailed his career.
A frequent guest, commentator Jeff Greenfield, as soon as called Mr. Imus “the court jester to the effective,” whose show was “a very comfy location to have genuine discussions about real stuff.” However others saw him as an egotistic faux-cowboy who badgered the weak and provided voice to awful stereotypes.
” I could never ever determine if there was actually a heart of gold under that crusty, nasty old tough soul of his,” said David Von Drehle, a Washington Post writer who worked with Mr. Imus’s second wife, Deirdre, on a book she wrote about vegan cooking. “He had such a harmful task. You’re supposed to forge ahead constantly, however never step over the line.”
John Donald Imus Jr. was born July 23, 1940, in Riverside, Calif., to a well-to-do local beauty and a third-generation livestock rancher who was an alcoholic. From an early age, Mr. Imus was a leader– class president in 8th grade– and a cutup, “the rotten kid who teased the fat kid in school,” he later stated of himself.
He invested late nights listening to Wolfman Jack’s strange pirate broadcasts from a transmitter simply over the border in Mexico.
Mr. Imus left high school in 1957 to invest 2 years in the Militaries, attempted his luck as a blue-eyed soul singer and worked as a uranium miner and filling station attendant. In 1967, he registered in transmitting school. Two years later, he got his first DJ job.
The very first time Mr. Imus was fired from a station, in Stockton, it was for an on-air riff about “spooks” on Halloween, which came right after he had actually invited listeners to take part in an Eldridge Cleaver look-alike contest (first reward, a $5,000 fine and 10 years in prison), which Mr. Imus indicated as a commentary on the FBI’s failure to find the fugitive Black Panther.
The same eagerness to break the Leading 40 radio formula that got Mr. Imus in difficulty made him appealing to employers looking for big audiences. In Sacramento, Mr. Imus established running sketches featuring characters such as Crazy Bob, who twisted fairy tales into modern-day stories of randy wolves and lascivious grandmoms, and Judge Hangin’, who got really thrilled about the happiness of cops cruelty.
In 1971, when he took his act from Cleveland to New york city City’s WNBC, the Cleveland Plain Dealership heading said: “Trash Mouth Goes to Gotham.”
Mr. Imus skyrocketed to celebrity status in New york city, did stand-up comedy in Greenwich Village, opened a dining establishment called for himself, tape-recorded funny albums and won substantial rankings. But by his own account, he also became dangerously addicted to vodka, speed and, later, drug. He frequently began his program late, missed dozens of days completely and was ultimately fired, as much for intoxicated excesses when it comes to any stubborn funny regimen.
He went back to Cleveland in 1978 but was rehired in New York a year later. This time, WNBC put Mr. Imus in a lineup with fellow bad boy Howard Stern and promoted the 2 with the motto “If We Weren’t So Bad, We Would Not Be So Good.” The 2 hated each other. Stern called Mr. Imus “vodka breath” and considered him a lazy purveyor of low-cost gags; Mr. Imus saw Stern as a childish interloper, self-obsessed and unpolished.
In 1987, after a drinking binge that lasted nine days, Mr. Imus looked into the Hanley-Hazelden rehabilitation center in West Palm Beach, Fla. He said he stayed sober from that point on.
The next year, when WNBC went off the air and Mr. Imus moved to an otherwise all-sports station, WFAN, he no longer had to play music. He slowly transformed his show into a blend of interviews, rants and riffs on the day’s news.
With a growing cast of regulars consisting of writers such as Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, Sens. John McCain and John Kerry, TELEVISION news characters such as Tim Russert and Andrea Mitchell, and long time sidekicks Bernie McGuirk and Charles McCord, the program handled a locker-room environment, with a moldy mix of chatter, expert analysis and flat-out name-calling– attracting a high-end audience that advertisers would pay a premium to reach.
Mr. Imus called fellow talk-show host Rush Limbaugh a “fat, gutless, pill-popping loser”; called then-developer (now president) Donald Trump “a horrible, transparent goon. an unctuous, gauzy, pumping twit”; slurred William C. Rhoden, an African American New York Times sports columnist, as a “quota hire”; and referred to the late Gwen Ifill of PBS’s “Washington Week” as a “maid.”
Then he ‘d reverse and have a delightfully erudite conversation with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin about Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt.
” How can he do 5 minutes on the size of his penis and then interview Bill Bradley?” asked former Washington Post writer Tony Kornheiser on his Washington radio program after his station, WTEM, included “Imus in the Early morning” to its lineup.
” I have differed interests; they vary from NAFTA to my penis,” Mr. Imus informed his biographer, Kathleen Tracy, in “Imus: America’s Cowboy.”
In the 1990 s, getting on the Imus program was thought about one of the most effective publicity enhances a book could get.
For his high-end visitors and listeners, Mr. Imus was a window onto a coarser America, a location where real guys dispensed ethnic slurs and satirized the overeducated. The Imus show was a way to listen in on the chatter at a fictive clubhouse of the abundant and influential.
When the reporter Buzz Bissinger invested a week with Mr. Imus in 2006 for a profile in Vanity Fair, the writer concluded that the radio host had many faces: “Perverse. Smart. Savvy. Curious. Child-like. Moody. Mercurial. Out of it. Into it. Appealing.”
The radio show was nationally syndicated in 1993 and broadened to cable television in 1996, when MSNBC started simulcasting the radio program.
In 1993, Mr. Imus landed a 20- minute interview with President Expense Clinton, in which they discussed U.S. trade policy, however Mr. Imus also asked a leering concern about why the president might have installed AstroTurf in the back of his pickup when he was a boy. The host’s jabs, though often bawdy, were normally delivered with adequate tongue in cheek to keep prominent visitors comfy.
But the next year, Mr. Imus delivered a searing roast of Clinton and other politicians at the Radio and Tv Correspondents’ Association supper, making pointed barbs about the president’s sexual infelicities, with Clinton and his wife on the dais. The funny fell flat, and some regulars distanced themselves from Mr. Imus, but a lot of waited him.
The notoriety of the roast showed lucrative: “Imus in the Early morning” included 20 affiliates and raised its ad rates 25 percent in the wake of the controversy. Mr. Imus’s fame purchased him a penthouse on Central Park West in Manhattan, a $30 million house in Connecticut and the 4,000- acre Imus Cattle ranch in New Mexico, where he and his second better half, the former Deirdre Coleman, hosted kids who had actually cancer or lost brother or sisters to unexpected baby death syndrome.
His first marital relationship, to Harriet Showalter, ended in divorce. Besides his other half of 25 years, survivors include 4 daughters from his very first marriage, and two boys from his second marital relationship. A total list of survivors could not be verified.
In 2007, CBS Radio and MSNBC sacked Mr. Imus after a national protest over his calling the Rutgers University women’s basketball team ” nappy-headed hos.” Advertisers had deserted the show and the two media business had suspended Mr. Imus for two weeks, but that did not stop the outrage. Neither did a three-hour conference between Mr. Imus and team gamers and their parents, whom he guaranteed he would “never provide factor to be sorry they forgave me.” Civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton led demonstrations against Mr. Imus.
His time in the wilderness lasted 8 months.
Contrite however eager to show he might still be biting, Mr. Imus staged his return as a $100- per-ticket benefit for his camp for kids. He asked forgiveness for his “reprehensible” remark, presented two brand-new black cast members, and kept in mind that “Penis Cheney is still a war criminal, Hillary Clinton is still Satan and I’m back on the radio!”
Mr. Imus’s on-air buddies invited him back, taking their places once again as the target of his barbs but also indulging in his passionate compliments on their newest books or other tasks. McCain, running for president in 2008, began the program to receive Mr. Imus’s endorsement; regulars such as Kerry, previous New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Joe Lieberman returned, too. Even Sharpton welcomed the show’s return: “We were not trying to ruin Imus,” he told reporters then. “I hope he succeeds.”
” Good friends of mine desired to defend me,” Mr. Imus informed The Post at the time. “They desired individuals to consider what a terrific person I was, since I helped kids with cancer. Being a wonderful person doesn’t allow you to state whatever the [blank] you want to say.”
But 6 months after returning to the air, Mr. Imus once again drew attention for injecting race into his show. In a discussion of the arrest of NFL gamer Adam “Pacman” Jones in connection with a shooting outside a Las Vegas strip club, Mr. Imus asked, “What color is he?”
” African American,” stated sports press reporter Warner Wolf.
” There you go,” Mr. Imus replied. “Now we understand.”
At its peak, his radio program was on more than 100 stations, including his flagship, WABC in New York City. In 2018, when the business that owned a number of the stations his program aired on declared itself bankrupt, Mr. Imus signed off for the last time. He entrusted to one final shot at Sharpton, whom he called a “racist, bigoted civil rights charlatan”; with a psychological homage to the wounded soldiers for whom he had raised countless dollars; and with tearful thanks to those who listened: “I always believed and still believe I was always talking to someone. I didn’t understand if you were male or female, I felt in one’s bones there was someone that I spoke with and that would listen to me.”