Former Westport resident, radio personality Don Imus dead at 79

Former Fairfield County resident and cantankerous radio personality Don Imus died Friday morning at the age of 79.

He was born John Donald Imus Jr. on July 23, 1940, in Riverside, Calif.

He died Friday morning at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station, Texas, after being hospitalized since Christmas Eve. There was no immediate word on a possible cause of death.

Imus and his wife Deirdre bought a waterfront home at 106 Beachside Ave. in Westport back in 1997.

The couple sold their home for $14.4 million in 2013. At the time, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage — which brokered the deal — said it ranked among the highest amounts ever paid for a Westport home.

He also lived in Southport.

Imus rose to recognition through various disc jockey jobs, including stints at WNBC in New York and WHK in Cleveland. He was fired by CBS Radio and MSNBC in 2007 for using a racial slur while talking about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

The remark was heard across 60 radio stations and the MSNBC cable network. Although he apologized and landed a new gig a few months after, the incident marked a change in the public perception of Imus — who had been named one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans in 1997.

But his on-air personality was often tempered by his off-air philanthropy, including the ranch he ran New Mexico for dying children and raising more than $40 million for groups including the CJ Foundation for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

There is also a pediatric medical center bearing Imus’ name at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

Imus broke onto the radio waves at the age of 28 and was fired by a small California station soon into his career for saying “hell.” But the incident only pushed his career forward.

He moved on to larger California stations, even earning Billboard’s “Disc Jockey of the Year” award for medium-sized markets after a stunt where he ordered 1,200 hamburgers to go from a local McDonald’s restaurant.

By 1971, he was doing the morning drive-time show on WNBC-AM in New York, the nation’s largest and most competitive radio market.

In 1977, Imus was ignominiously dismissed by WNBC and dispatched to the relative anonymity of Cleveland. Two years later, he was back in New York.

But as he struggled with addiction, he found himself at a Florida alcohol rehabilitation center in 1987.

More than a decade ago, Imus battled stage 2 prostate cancer.

Imus is survived by his wife Deirdre, his sons and his daughters.

His family is expected to hold a private service in the coming days. The family asked for donations to be made to the Imus Ranch Foundation, an organization that supports charities that help families of children with cancer and other major illnesses.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.