Late last Friday evening, I received a text from my youngest son, Matt. “Imus died,” it said simply. I was shocked. “How old was he?” I texted back. “79″ came the answer. “Too young,” I replied.
John Donald Imus Jr. was an American radio icon. He was abrasive, irreverent, politically incorrect, and honest to a fault. If you are asking, “Who was Imus?” you are probably under 40, or have lived in a cave for most of your life. For the record, he hosted a radio show for nearly 50 years, mixing music with humor, and more recently, politics. His parodies are the stuff of legend, including his character Billy Sol Hargis, a Billy Graham-type preacher. You never knew for sure which side of the aisle he occupied politically (although I suspect it was slightly right of center). He often had political guests on his show such as Senator Ted Kennedy, Alphonse D’Amato, and New York’s Mayor, Ed Koch. He spared them no criticism.
He gave a number of individuals their start in radio, including Charles McCord, his news reporter and sidekick for over 30 years, Bernard McGuirk, comedian Rob Bartlett, and sportscaster Mike Breen. McGuirk was hilarious with his impersonations of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and New York Cardinal Joseph O’Connor, and Breen entertained with bogus sports reporting. Bartlett did many impersonations, including a terrific one of Marlon Brando as the Godfather.
In checking Imus’s Wikipedia page, I learned many things about the “I-Man,” that I never knew:
- He was a Marine (honorably discharged)
- He served in the drum and bugle corps
- He was a window dresser (fired after performing striptease routines on the mannequins)
- He was a brakeman on the Southern Pacific Railroad
- He worked in a Uranium mine (where he suffered an injury that broke both his legs)
- He was an author (he wrote three best-selling books)
Later in life, Don bought a 4,000 acre working ranch in New Mexico, which he operated for kids with cancer and siblings of SIDS victims. He kept the ranch for 15 years, before a horse riding accident forced him to auction it off. He incurred an injury in the fall that made it difficult for him to breathe at the high altitude of the ranch’s location.
Controversy haunted Imus throughout his career, and he was fired a number of times. He battled drug addiction and alcoholism for a good part of his life. Some said he was a racist, while others contended that he was only guilty of poor judgment.
I will never forget the joy I felt when we moved from New Jersey to North Carolina, and discovered early on that we could get the “Imus in the Morning” radio show simulcast on the Fox Business Network. It made the transition from North to South easier, and provided us with much entertainment.
Like him or not, anyone exposed to Don Imus never forgot him. I certainly never will. RIP old friend. You were one of a kind.