Infamous shock jock Don Imus has died at the age of 79, his family announced Friday.
The veteran radio and TV broadcaster, who hosted Imus in the Morning for 50 years before announcing his retirement less than two years ago, had been in the hospital since Christmas Eve, his family said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
Imus passed away at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station, Texas. His cause of death has not yet been disclosed.
He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Deirdre, sons Wyatt and Zachary Don Cates, and daughters Nadine, Ashley, Elizabeth, and Toni.
“Don loved and adored Deirdre, who unconditionally loved him back, loved spending his time watching Wyatt become a highly skilled, champion rodeo rider and calf roper, and loved and supported Zachary, who first met the Imus family at age 10 when he participated in the Imus Ranch program for kids with cancer, having battled and overcome leukemia, eventually becoming a member of the Imus family and Don and Deirdre’s second son,” the Imus family said in a statement.
The controversial morning personality was best known for his oversized cowboy hat and making bombastic, and often deeply offensive, statements to millions of people. Many of his on-air slurs were racist, sexist or homophobic.
He called Oprah Winfrey “a fat phony,” Hillary Clinton “Satan,” and Dick Cheney a “war criminal.” Imus was open about his struggles with alcoholism and cocaine addiction, which later led to health complications. In 2000, he fell from a horse and broke ribs, a collarbone, and suffered a collapsed lung, which caused severe breathing problems—his other lung collapsed in 1992.
Imus in the Morning was first aired in 1971 by WNBC, which ultimately launched his career and built his loyal following base. He was fired by the station in 1977 due to a format change but he was rehired two years later. The show was nationally syndicated in 1993 and MSNBC began simulcasting it in 1996.
His fan base reveled in his outlandish, unapologetic, and bold statements, even as he was repeatedly fired, notably by WNBC and CBS, and hit with numerous lawsuits.
While often sparking outrage with his offensive comments, Imus also raised millions for the rehabilitation of injured veterans of the Iraq war, children with cancer, and siblings of victims of sudden infant death syndrome, which his fans frequently used to his defense. His charity work extended to helping sick and dying children at his ranch in New Mexico by building a camp for them.
Imus announced his retirement in January 2018, telling fans, “Turn out the lights ... the party’s over.” For most of 2017, he took a leave of absence due to health problems, notably emphysema. His last day on the Imus in the Morning program was March 29 of last year.
Imus’ morning radio show was axed from CBS in 2007 after he called the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “rough girls” and “nappy-headed hos” in an on-air conversation with a producer. The fallout was swift as black organizations, women’s groups, and the media were outraged over his comments.
Then-president Barack Obama said, “He didn’t just cross the line,” adding, “He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America.”
Imus eventually apologized, saying, “This time we went way too far.” CBS and MSNBC decided to cut him off. He was contracted eight months later by Citadel Radio and rural television network RFD-TV, but his tenure was cut three years short in 2009 when he and the network mutually decided to end the contract.
During a March 16, 2009 show, Imus disclosed to listeners that he had prostate cancer and that he chose to treat the disease holistically, going against advice to undergo radiation therapy.