Don Imus died today. He was a complex man who never, ever denied that his complexity and inappropriate behavior was anything other than awful, and not representative of his true beliefs.
I was twenty-five and worked at Vincent Andrews Management Corporation, which managed famous people. Don Imus was one of my accounts, though he wasn’t the richest or the most famous of our clients. (Butchie Revson, the founder’s son, and Rose Mary Woods — yes, the Rose Mary who deleted the tape and, I believe, would have done it again — were also in the mix). Anyway, Imus had a choice. Since he’d avoided paying taxes for years, the IRS told him to have VAMC manage his money and pay the back taxes … or he could do his show from the clinker. The problem was that I was the one who had to walk from the office at 52nd and Madison to Rockefeller Center to bring him checks to sign along with his allowance, about which he was always embittered.
I would show up, and during the commercial break, he would sign the checks and then complain about me as I left. He would comment about my not giving him the money he needed to eat or buy camera equipment (he was a wonderful photographer), and then he would tell people that someone should push me in front of a cab as I left Rockefeller Center. He would even describe to them what I was wearing until I got smart, removing my coat in the waiting area and putting it back on before leaving. More than once people asked me if I was the Chris who was holding back Imus’ money, and I would act confused.
Then I had an operation on my head, and for a month, I was bandaged. I’d had a tumor removed, and you’d think that as a result, he would have taken some kind of care, but it gave him a perfect opportunity to act even worse. “I am pretty sure they gave her a lobotomy,” he’d say. “If you can believe it, they removed part of her brain, and now she can’t remember numbers over five.” I didn’t really mind that much, and there was something about him that made it all OK. I knew he didn’t mean anything by it and was just doing his Howard Stern shtick years before Stern came on the scene.
Here is the thing: the man was in constant pain. Not physical, although as the years went by, that came too, but you could see the personal pain he carried from a past that had somehow damaged his soul. So when he asked me after my head surgery, “Are you OK?” I knew he meant it more than any of the others at work with whom I lunched daily. When he looked me in the eye, he meant it. And, if he thought for a single minute I couldn’t take what he dished out, he wouldn’t have given it to me.
I’m not saying that what he said to me — and others — over the years was OK. I’m certainly not. I’m saying that the minute he said something that caused pain to others, and then realized what he’d done, he was truly sorry. And that matters to me.
I miss his show. He was unafraid to ask follow-up questions, and I have wondered numerous times over the last few years whether, if he were still doing what is now “Morning Joe,” there would be someone else in the White House. He would never, never, never do what Mika and Joe do for ratings, or for anything else. And his dislike for Hillary would not have taken precedence over his dislike for everything Trump stands for. I just wonder. Oh, and for the record, I do not think he was a racist, although when Obama said his daughters were damaged by the remark that took him off the air, I knew, as did he, that he had gone too far.
I wish him peace in death that he never had in life, and I will remember the good in him — the brilliant, good man who looked at each person equally and questioned them all with abandon.