Imus was born in Riverside, California. Ranching was the family business and he was actually raised on a big cattle spread called the Willows near Kingman, Arizona. Don recalls that period of his childhood fondly and his familiar cowboy persona is completely legitimate. His irascibility appears to be equally legitimate, influenced by more than a few hard knocks along the way. If he revels in the agony of others, as he jokes, it may just be because he’s had a little of that himself. His parents divorced when Don was fifteen, he changed schools frequently, got arrested after a school yard fight, won election in secondary school as class president and was impeached, and, at seventeen, was pushed by his mother to join the marine corps as the best strategy to keep him out of jail. While it all added up to what Imus himself has described as a fairly horrible adolescence, it also disproves a theory that he actually had no parents and instead spawned spontaneously in dust clots behind the Laundromat dryers where one day he would seek shelter. When did all of these events unfold? It doesn’t really matter. And why annoy Don by asking?
Despite the occasional rough patch, Imus did spend a full twelve years in public school and emerged with no formal education…a product of automatic social promotion not even casually tied to merit. He graduated with no honors and no skills, a rare stroke of luck because a broadcasting career required neither. Difficulty continued to dog Imus after his school days: his undistinguished, infraction blotched stretch in the marines, onerous labor in a Superior, Arizona copper mine and a Grand Canyon uranium mine where an accident left him with both legs broken. There was work as a freight brakeman on the Southern Pacific railroad and a back injury suffered in an engine derailment and at one point the indignities of homelessness, hitching, being flat broke. Better, and worse days were to come. This quintessential American and often challenging personal passage materially defined Imus, instilling him with humility, a deep respect for our country and its workers, and a disturbing need to get even. He emerged from the experience with attributes that contributed enormously to the broadcasting distinction he would realize: an intrinsic, conspicuous authenticity, and a unique ability to connect with real people who work hard, serve their country, and care passionately about what really matters in the world.
Once Imus began broadcasting, fame and acclaim came quickly. He was showered with the laurels of radio celebrity including inductions into both the National Association of Broadcasters and radio halls of fame. He was the recipient of four Marconi awards, broadcasting’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscars. It got to the point that he would throw this or that slab of walnut with crystal crap glued to it against the wall of his office as a convenient means of intimidating horrified underlings. He was featured on television programs from NBC’s “Today” show to CBS’ “60 Minutes.” He was a guest of Charlie Rose, David Letterman, and of special note, Larry King, in shameless, mutual ass-kissing marathons that challenged the audience’s gag reflex.
Don and wife Deirdre will continue to run the Imus ranch for kids with cancer, raise more millions for the Tomorrows Children Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS, America’s veterans and their care, autism studies, environmental concerns, and all the countless other things Don does, most with notice neither assigned nor sought.
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