Rush Limbaugh, the conservative media icon who for decades used his perch as the king of talk-radio to shape the politics of both the Republican Party and nation, died Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.
Limbaugh's wife Kathryn made the announcement on his radio show Wednesday.
"As so many of you know, losing a loved one is terribly difficult, even more so when that loved one is larger than life," she said. "Rush will forever be the greatest of all time."
Limbaugh announced in February 2020 that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Limbaugh continued to host his show while undergoing treatment, and he told listeners that he remained hopeful he would defeat the disease.
A pioneer of AM talk-radio, Limbaugh for 32 years hosted "The Rush Limbaugh Show," a nationally-syndicated program with millions of loyal listeners that transfigured him into a partisan force and polarizing figure in American politics. In many ways, his radio show was like the big bang of the conservative media universe. "TheRush Limbaugh Show" helped popularize the political talk-radio format and usher in a generation of conservative infotainment.
Using his sizable platform, Limbaugh advanced conservative ideas, though he often waded into conspiratorial waters and generated controversy for hateful commentary on gender and race. During the course of his career, Limbaugh started a number of fires with his commentary.
Limbaugh offered a conditional apology after he accused actor Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson's disease and apologized when he a insulted law school student Sandra Fluke. He relentlessly attacked President Barack Obama, going as far as to fan the flames of birtherism, the discredited idea that Obama was born outside the United States and therefore not eligible to be President. And, in the last few years, he peddled "deep state" conspiracy theories, providing cover for President Donald Trump, who he counted as a friend.
More recently, Limbaugh appeared to approve of some forms of political violence in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. He also drew backlash at the outset of the pandemic when he dismissed the coronavirus as the "common cold" and contended that it was being "weaponized" by members of the mainstream press to bludgeon Trump and harm his re-election chances. The missive was classic Limbaugh, who built a career on expressing strong distrust of the established press order and referred to himself as "America's Anchorman."
Despite his penchant for pushing conspiracy theories and peddling misinformation that benefited Trump and the other political figures he supported over the years, Limbaugh acknowledged the weight of his words in a 2008 interview with The New York Times.
"I take the responsibility that comes with my show very seriously," Limbaugh told the newspaper. "I want to persuade people with ideas. I don't walk around thinking about my power. But in my heart and soul, I know I have become the intellectual engine of the conservative movement."
'No one had heard anything like it before'
Rush Hudson Limbaugh III was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to Rush Hudson Limbaugh Jr. and Mildred Carolyn Limbaugh. His father, Limbaugh Jr., was a prominent Republican activist. Limbaugh's younger brother, David Limbaugh, is a lawyer and conservative commentator.
From a young age, Limbaugh was interested in a career in radio. When he was 16 years old Limbaugh enrolled in a summer course on radio engineering and earned a broadcaster's license. He soon landed a job in local radio. Limbaugh's father demanded he attend college, but Limbaugh had little interest.
"My father expected me to be a professional man," Limbaugh told The Times. "The problem was, I hated school. I hated being told what to do. In the Boy Scouts I never got a single merit badge. In school my grades were terrible. I just didn't want to be there. I just wanted to be on the radio."
Limbaugh eventually attended Southeast Missouri State University for a year before dropping out. He struggled to find a stable career in radio, working at various stations, including as a top-40 DJ. Limbaugh also struggled in his personal life, having divorced two women in a span of 10 years.
Things changed when he moved to Sacramento, California, to work at KFBK-AM in 1984. From there, Limbaugh developed "The Rush Limbaugh Show." He struck success, doing well in the ratings and earning the attention of Ed McLaughlin, the former head of ABC Radio. In 1988, when Limbaugh's show became nationally syndicated, he moved to New York to broadcast from WABC.
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