Radio shock jock Don Imus died Friday at the age of 79.
The broadcaster, who typically wore a cowboy hat, was a pioneer of the radio genre that prized irreverence and caustic wit, and pushed back against political correctness.
Imus embraced those traits, and was sometimes accused of tipping into sexist and racially insensitive territory.
He died at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station, Texas, after being hospitalized since Christmas Eve, his publicist said in a statement.
The I-Man, as he was called, retired from his Imus in the Morning show in March 2018.
No stranger to controversy, Imus became entangled in a national debate about racism in 2007 after calling women on the Rutgers University basketball team “nappy headed hos.”
As Michael Paulino wrote for NPR’s Code Switch:
The backlash was immediate. Calls for Imus to be taken off the air began to flood in.
Days later, Imus appeared as a guest on activist Al Sharpton’s show in an attempt to address the criticism. Imus said that he had used the phrase without an understanding that nappy was a racial slur.
About a week after the original comment, CBS Radio canceled Imus In The Morning indefinitely, calling Imus’ use of the phrase racially damaging.
Where he may have been initially contrite, the notorious crank soon returned to his old irascible self.
In June 2008, Imus was in trouble once again for making racially charged remarks. During a conversation about NFL player Adam “Pacman” Jones, Imus asked, “What color is he?”
When the co-host responded that Jones is African American, Imus responded: “Well, there you go. Now we know.”
Imus later said he was trying to make a “sarcastic point.”
But despite the rough patches, Imus remained popular throughout more than 45 years on the air.
His biography notes, “Once Imus began broadcasting, fame and acclaim came quickly.” He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1989 and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1996.
He was also one of VH1’s original disc jockeys when the music network launched in 1985.
Imus is survived by his wife of 25 years, Deirdre, his sons, Wyatt and Zachary Don Cates, and four daughters: Nadine, Ashley, Elizabeth and Toni.