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Don Imus Dies At 79


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.


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.


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.


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.

Corrected: December 27, 2019 at 11:00 PM CST
In this story, we incorrectly say Don Imus spoke at the 1996 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. He did speak at the 1996 Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner.
Andrew Limbong is a reporter and producer for NPR's Arts Desk, where he reports, produces, and mixes arts and culture pieces of all kinds. Previously, he was a producer and director for Tell Me More. He originally started at NPR in 2011 as an intern for All Things Considered.
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