U.S. News

Radio broadcaster Don Imus has died

David K. Li
Don Imus answered questions from Rev. Al Sharpton on Sharpton's radio show.
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Radio shock jock Don Imus, one of the early pioneers of his genre, died Friday less than two years after retiring, according to a family statement given to NBC New York.

He was 79.

The controversial morning personality's last day on the radio was on March 29 of last year. He had announced on Jan. 22 that he was retiring, telling fans: "Turn out the lights...the party's over."

The grizzled radio man was best known for his outsized cowboy hat and penchant for making controversial, often offensive, statements.

Radio personality Don Imus at WFAN studio in Manhattan
Mark Peterson | Corbis | Getty Images

In 2007 MSNBC dropped its simulcast of the "Imus in the Morning" radio program after he described the mostly African-American Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos."

Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News and MSNBC.

He was also fired from his gig on CBS radio for the same remark. He returned to the airwaves, at New York's WABC (AM), after eight months of exile.

Imus was born in Riverside, California, raised on a cattle "spread" near Kingman, Arizona, and started in radio in New York in 1971, according to a bio released by his family Friday.

A challenging childhood that included an arrest for fighting and the divorce of his parents culminated in an unremarkable public school career, the bio states.

"He graduated with no honors and no skills, a rare stroke of luck because a broadcasting career required neither," it says.

Imus went on to take his acerbic tongue and steadfast identification with the American working man to the realm of ratings gold. He was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.

On Friday friends and colleagues reacted to his demise.

"He will long be remembered as one of the true giants in the history of radio," New York sports radio legend Mike Francesa said on

.

Joe Scarborough of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" said

that the program "obviously owes its format to Don Imus. No one else could have gotten away with that much talk on cable news."