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Don Imus Dies At 79

Dec 28, 2019
Originally published on December 28, 2019 1:24 pm
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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Longtime radio show host Don Imus died yesterday. He was 79 years old. According to a statement from his family, he'd been in the hospital since Christmas Eve, though no cause of death was given. Imus was equal parts influential and controversial.

As NPR's Andrew Limbong reports, he drew an audience with his caustic and offensive humor.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: On his long-running show "Imus In The Morning," Don Imus could jump from an interview with a senator to doing an absurdist character, like his Dr. Billy Sol Hargis, an evangelist who thinks he's the other son of God. Here he is doing the bit on NPR in 1981.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DON IMUS: (As Dr. Billy Sol Hargis) Shall we all sing together? I don't care if it rains or freezes as long as I've got my plastic Jesus.

LIMBONG: He was known for his jokes, jokes that were often racist, homophobic and sexist. In 2007, he infamously made fun of the Rutgers women's basketball team, using racist and misogynistic language.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IMUS: That's some nappy-headed h*** there. I'm going to tell you that now.

LIMBONG: The comment drew national criticism. Imus was fired by CBS, but he made his way back onto radio later that year. Brian Rosenwald is the author of the book "Talk Radio's America." He says Imus's audience wanted that kind of humor.

BRIAN ROSENWALD: They were the people who want to laugh at those jokes and were tuning in in part to hear those jokes because they felt like they had become marginalized, that the rules of the game had changed on race and gender and other issues.

LIMBONG: But Imus wasn't a strict partisan. He insulted the left, right, even his peers. Here he is taking a dig at Rush Limbaugh's politics at the 1996 Radio and TV Correspondents' Dinner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IMUS: I'm sick of him. The radio show, the television show, the stupid books and now men's ties - bold, vibrant, colorful and all designed to look great with a brown shirt.

LIMBONG: Imus continued doing his show until 2018, and his influence can be felt on radio and cable news today. Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.