Rush Limbaugh, who spent more than 30 years near the top of the charts with his highly partisan brand of talk radio, has died of cancer at the age of 70. “As so many of you know, losing a loved one is terribly difficult,” Limbaugh’s wife Kathryn said on his show Wednesday morning. “Even more so when that loved one is larger than life.” The show airs on more than 600 stations, attracting 27 million weekly listeners, among them Donald Trump, who became a friend during his 2016 presidential run.
In an interview on Fox News today, his first since before the January 6 insurrectionist riot at the Capitol, Trump called Limbaugh “a fantastic man,” adding that “Rush thought we won, and so do I. I think we won substantially.”
Limbaugh’s family had been involved in Republican politics long before 16-year-old Rush picked up a microphone at his father’s radio station in Missouri. “I hated school. I hated being told what to do,” he told Fox News. “My grades were terrible. I just didn’t want to be there. I just wanted to be on the radio.” He became a top-40 DJ under the name “Bachelor Jeff” Christie in Pittsburgh and Kansas City. He left radio in 1979 to work for the Kansas City Royals baseball team.
The radio host developed his controversial, politically charged persona at KFBK, an AM radio station in Sacramento, where he debuted The Rush Limbaugh Show one month before Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984. Three years later, Reagan’s FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine, which had compelled broadcasters to cover both sides of controversial issues. In 1988, Limbaugh took his now-syndicated show to New York and was soon hosting the most listened to talk radio show in America, popularizing the format of polititainment.
Endorsements by Limbaugh helped Trump and two George Bushes win the presidency and contributed to the “Republican Revolution” of 1994. George Bush, Sr. is said to have carried Limbaugh’s bags into the White House when he came for an overnight visit in 1992. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Donald Trump last year.
Limbaugh sat behind his golden microphone for three hours every weekday inflaming his listeners with stories about Democrats, celebrities, and sports figures he disagreed with. He pushed the idea that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, he dubbed Hillary Clinton a “feminazi,” and even accused Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson’s disease. “There’s a whole psychology of doing the program the way that I do it,” Limbaugh told NPR. “And there is a lot of schtick and a lot of humor to it. But the one thing that I don’t do is make things up or say things I don’t believe, just to cause a reaction. Because that takes no talent.”
The host was quiet on election matters after signing off from his show at Christmastime, but reemerged to mock the riot at the Capitol, saying, “All of a sudden, protesting Congress is being called the end of the world!” Limbaugh said. “A bloody coup attempt! Even though the only blood spilled was that of an unarmed Trump supporter.” Trump awarded Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom last February.
Limbaugh was married four times, arrested on drug charges, and was a debunked conspiracy theorist who couldn’t care less about the consequences. The cigar enthusiast was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in January 2020. “I’ve had a policy all my life not to worry about offending people because it’s going to happen,” Limbaugh told NPR. “It’s a daily part of life.”
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