Mike and the Mad Dog host Mike Francesca tweeted on Friday, "Shocking news on the passing of my friend, Don Imus. He will long be remembered as one of the true giants in the history of radio. My thoughts and prayers to Deirdre and Wyatt. God speed."
Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough added, "Morning Joe obviously owes its format to Don Imus. No one else could have gotten away with that much talk on cable news. Thanks for everything, Don, and Godspeed." Morning Joe started as a fill-in for Imus in the Morning after Imus was fired from MSNBC in 2007.
Imus in the Morning reached radio listeners via Citadel Media and was simulcast on the Fox Business Network.
Imus was loved or hated for his caustic loud-mouth. Outspoken in an age of political correctness, his often coarse satire offended sensibilities. Yet, his listeners included those whom he often ridiculed. His call-in guests included: President Bill Clinton, Dan Rather, Tim Russert, Bill Bradley, David Dinkins, Rudy Giuliani and political analyst Jeff Greenfield, who once remarked: “He's out there talking the way most of us talk when we're not in public.”
He sparked national outcry in 2007 when he made derogatory, racist remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Both CBS Radio and MSNBC dropped his show.
He rebounded by signing a multi year contract with the Fox Business Network in 2009 to simulcast his radio program Imus in the Morning from 6 a.m. - 9 a.m., with Fox anchors appearing during the program.
Imus battled a lifelong addiction to drugs and alcohol. In 2009, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Imus was often compared to syndicated shock jock Howard Stern who appeared on WNBC also from 1982-85. Imus and Stern frequently appeared on each other's shows. Although Imus could not match Stern's audience in terms of numbers, advertisers were well aware of Imus' better-educated and richer demographic, often preferring him.
Imus in the Morning debuted in 1971 at WNBC in New York. On the program, which sandwiched music around his in-your-face commentary, Imus mocked authority figures and ridiculed social and political problems. His no-holds-barred humor, including gags and pranks, spurred the onset of “shock jocks,” such as Howard Stern. A mix of rock’n’roll, raunchy humor, call-ins and hard barbs, Imus in the Morning was a huge hit.
He also performed stand-up at the time, garnering favorable reviews from such unlikely reviewers as the New York Times.
An active philanthropist, Imus and his wife Deirdre founded the Imus Ranch in 1999, where each summer children with cancer could enjoy the outdoors.
John Donald Imus, Jr., was born July 23, 1940 in Riverside, Calif. He was raised in Prescott, Ariz. where his family owned a large ranch. He dropped out of high school to join the Marines and after basic training won a chair in the Marine band.
Following discharge he worked at an array of odd jobs: window dresser (he was fired for staging mannequin striptease shows), uranium miner and railroad brakeman, where he suffered a serious neck injury and won a large cash settlement.
While recovering, he set his sites on becoming a disc jockey, ostensibly to play his own rock’n’roll on the airwaves. He moved to Los Angeles, enrolled in a Hollywood broadcasting school and landed his first deejay job at KUTY, a station in Palmdale.
During an eight-month stint he developed a skill for comic patter and moved to KJOY in Stockton where he staged satirical social and political gags, including an Eldridge Cleaver look-alike contest when the Black Panther was on the lam. His station manager did not see the humor and fired Imus.
Imus moved to KXOA in Sacramento where his satirical hijinks were appreciated by the station manager who counseled him that his humor would be more lethal and less likely to attract legal action. Intent on becoming more lethal, Imus created a slew of satirical characters, including the huckster Rev. Billy Sol Hargus.
His on-air comic antics infuriated authorities, including the FCC which was not amused when he phoned a fast-food outlet, ordering 1,200 hamburgers with a bizarre array of topping requests. The gag resulted in a ruling that deejays must identify themselves when making on-air calls. The clash with governmental authority, not surprisingly, boosted his ratings. His stint at KXOA boosted it to number-one in Sacramento.
Imus is survived by his wife Deirdre, his sons Wyatt and Lt. Zachary Don Cates and daughters Nadine, Ashley, Elizabeth and Toni.
The family will hold a private service in the coming days and asks for donations to be made to the Imus Ranch Foundation, benefiting charities that help families of children with cancer and other major illnesses.
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.