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John Donald Imus

Radio talk show host. Born John Donald Imus, on July 23, 1940, in Riverside, California, and raised in California and in Prescott, Arizona, with younger brother Fred, 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 fifteen, he left high school, joined the Marine Corps, and the Marine Band. After his discharge at the age of nineteen, Imus had unsuccessful stints as a window dresser, and as a rock-n-roll musician with his brother. 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 the music he and his brother loved, working as a disc jockey.

Imus got his start at a small radio station in Palmdale, California, in 1968. After establishing himself and his brand of witty, somewhat coarse and controversial, humor, he moved on to Cleveland. 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, and also critics who urged a boycott of his show.

In 1971, Imus made a big move to WNBC in New York City, where he started Imus in the Morning, and continued his brand of “insult humor.” No one was exempt from his ridicule, including the station’s management and his own sponsors. Though at the top of his game on-air, Imus battled addictions to alcohol and drugs, and became unreliable and difficult to work with. He was fired in 1977 for his conduct. Imus made his first stab at recovery, returned to Cleveland to clean up his act, and was subsequently brought back to New York in 1979, only to return to his addictions. His morning show thrived nonetheless for a few years, but competition from FM stations threatened. Imus’ health continually declined and in 1987, he finally sought treatment.





July 18, 2001