1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 4/13/2007 10:03:05 AM ET 2007-04-13T14:03:05

Don Imus was under fire, his job was in jeopardy, and his big mouth was to blame.

This was 1969, at a small radio station in Stockton, Calif., and the nascent disc jockey was the target of outrage for rattling local sensibilities by uttering a bad word on the air: “hell.” Imus was fired, but — in what became a continuing pattern — the controversy only boosted his profile and career prospects.

The up-and-down arc of Imus’ nearly 40 years in broadcasting bottomed out Thursday after his mouth finally went too far. The veteran DJ, who mingled political punditry with his penchant for pushing the boundaries of bad taste, was fired for ridiculing the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”

Critics demanded his resignation. Advertisers bailed from the program. And Imus, whose sharp tongue and biting barbs were hallmarks of his broadcasting ascension, was reduced to a series of endless apologies.

The 66-year-old Imus was born on a California cattle ranch, with his family moving to Arizona when he was young. Imus served in the Marines before taking jobs as a freight train brakeman and a uranium miner; it wasn’t until he was 28 that he found his niche at a small radio station in Palmdale, Calif.

After moving on to Stockton and getting fired, Imus jumped to a larger station in Sacramento — and earned Billboard’s Disc Jockey of the Year award for medium-sized markets after a stunt where he ordered 1,200 hamburgers to go from a local McDonald’s.

His next stop was Cleveland, where he won DJ of the year for large markets. By 1971, he was doing the morning drive-time show on WNBC-AM in New York. Imus developed a destructive taste for vodka, along with a reputation for an irascible personality.

In 1977, Imus was fired and returned to Cleveland. Within two years, though, he turned the disaster into triumph, returning to WNBC while adding a new vice: cocaine. He eventually landed in rehab, and has been sober for about 20 years.

He engaged in a long-running feud with shock jock Howard Stern, who usurped Imus’ position as the No. 1 morning host in the nation’s largest radio market. Yet in 1982, when Stern arrived at WNBC for his New York debut, the pair were peddled as bad-boy bookends for the station.

Video: Imus fired In the late ’80s, WFAN took over WNBC’s spot on the dial (660 AM), and kept Imus show — its only nonsports programming.

In the past decade, Imus redefined his show by mixing his show’s comedy segments with A-list guests: politicians like Sens. John Kerry and John McCain, journalists like NBC’s Tim Russert and The New York Times’ Frank Rich, musicians like Harry Connick Jr. and John Mellencamp.

  1. More Entertainment stories
    1. Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts

      In a popular YouTube video, the beaming little ballerina dances an entire four-minute routine seemingly perfectly, matchin...

    2. Every on-screen drink in 'Mad Men' in 5 minutes
    3. See the 'Dancing' stars' most memorable moves
    4. Emmy's biggest snubs? Cranston, Hamm, more
    5. 'Toy Story' toys burn up in prank on mom

Imus has been married to second wife Deirdre Coleman since 1994. They have a son, Wyatt. He also has four daughters from his first marriage.

He was known for his western attire that usually included a cowboy hat — a tribute to his ranching upbringing. He’s also heavily involved in the Imus Ranch, a working cattle ranch for children with cancer and blood disorders in New Mexico.

His popularity soared to new heights when MSNBC began simulcasting his radio show in 1996, delivering strong ratings over an 11-year period that ended Wednesday when the cable network pulled the plug. CBS followed suit Thursday and dumped Imus from his radio program.

A February 2006 profile in Vanity Fair contained the quote that might best serve as Imus’ epitaph.

“I talk to millions of people every day,” he said while riding home in a limousine after one show. “I just like it when they can’t talk back.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    Why 7 hours of sleep a night may be better than 8

    7/23/2014 11:34:13 AM +00:00 2014-07-23T11:34:13
Breaking news
  1. Report: Passenger jet crashes in Taiwan 

    A plane has crashed in Taiwan killing 51 people and injuring seven, according to local reports. The TransAir flight was traveling from Kaohsiung to Makung during stormy weather in the wake of Typhoon Matmo, local media reported.

    7/23/2014 1:56:52 PM +00:00 2014-07-23T13:56:52
  1. Jenna Bush Hager: 5 things I've learned from my Gampy

    On this milestone — his 90th birthday — I thought about how much I’ve learned from him.

    7/23/2014 10:43:31 AM +00:00 2014-07-23T10:43:31
  2. video George H.W. Bush talks to TODAY about turning 90

    video Check out the extended, full-length interview that President George H.W. Bush gave to his granddaughter, TODAY correspondent Jenna Bush Hager, around his 90th birthday parachute jump.

    7/3/2014 8:13:54 PM +00:00 2014-07-03T20:13:54
  3. video Barbara Bush to son: Your dad was the best president

    video TODAY correspondent Jenna Bush Hager talks with her grandmother, first lady Barbara Bush, and her father, President George W. Bush, about their picks for history’s best president and first lady.

    7/22/2014 8:17:09 PM +00:00 2014-07-22T20:17:09
  4. Courtesy of Jenna Bush Hager
  1. GPS monitoring fail: Some felons continue to prey despite bracelets

    When high-risk criminals leave prison, many must wear ankle bracelets with GPS monitoring. But an NBC News investigation uncovered cases of parole officers asleep at the switch, allowing violent offenders to strike again. Jeff Rossen reports.

    7/23/2014 12:06:07 PM +00:00 2014-07-23T12:06:07