Rush Limbaugh, a talk radio host who broke liberals and squandered political correctness with a vicious malice that made him one of the most powerful voices in politics, influencing American conservatism’s right-wing drive and the rise of Donald Trump, died Wednesday. He was 70 years old.
Limbaugh said a year ago that he had lung cancer. His death was announced on his show by his wife, Kathryn.
Incredibly conservative, wildly biased, bombastically self-promoting and larger than life, Limbaugh galvanized listeners for more than 30 years with his talent for sarcastic, insulting comments.
He called himself an entertainer, but his rants during his three-hour radio day broadcast on nearly 600 U.S. stations shaped the national political conversation and swung ordinary Republicans and the direction of their party.
Blessed with a made for broadcast voice, he left his views with such certainty that his followers, or “Ditto-heads,” as he called them, took their words as sacred truth.
“In my heart and soul, I know I have become the intellectual engine of the conservative movement,” Limbaugh told, with typical discomfort, author Zev Chafets in the 2010 book “Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One.”
The magazine Forbes estimated his income for 2018 at 84 million dollars and ranked him only behind Howard Stern among radio staff.
Limbaugh was awarded the title of “most dangerous man in America”. He said he was the “truth detector”, the “doctor of democracy”, the “lover of humanity”, a “harmless, lovable little fuzzball” and an “all-around good guy.” He claimed to have “borrowed talent from God.”
Long before Trump’s upbringing in politics, Limbaugh attached insulting names to his enemies and raged against the mainstream media, accusing it of feeding the public lies. He called democrats and others on the left communists, wackos, feminists, liberal extremists, bassoons and radicals.
When actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, appeared in an advertisement for a democratic campaign, Limbaugh mocked his tremors. When a Washington advocate for the homeless killed himself, he joked. When the AIDS epidemic raged in the 1980s, he turned the dying into a punchline. He called 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton a dog.
He suggested that the Democrats’ position on reproductive rights would have led to the abortion of Jesus Christ. When a woman accused Duke University lacrosse players of rape, he mocked her as a “ho”, and when a law student from Georgetown University supported increased contraceptive coverage, he dismissed her as a “slut.” When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Limbaugh said bluntly: “I hope he fails.”
He was often accused of exaggeration and blatant racism for such pranks as playing the song “Barack the Magic Negro” on his show. The lyrics, set to the tune “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, describe Obama as someone who “makes guilty whites feel good” and is “black, but not authentic.”
Limbaugh often proclaimed the Republican platform better and more entertainingly than any party leader and became a GOP kingmaker whose support and friendship was sought. Investigations consistently found that he was considered the party’s vote.
His idol, Ronald Reagan, wrote a letter of praise that Limbaugh proudly read in the air in 1992: “You have become the foremost voice for conservatism.” In 1994, Limbaugh was credited so much with the first Republican takeover of Congress in 40 years that the GOP made him an honorary member of the new class.
During the 2016 presidential election, Limbaugh said he realized early on that Trump would be nominated and that he likened the candidate’s deep connection to his supporters with his own. In a 2018 interview, he admitted that Trump is rude but said it was because he is “fearless and willing to fight the things that no Republican has been willing to fight.”
Trump, for his part, claimed Limbaugh, and during last year’s speech, he awarded the broadcaster the president’s medal of freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, and called his friend “a special man loved by millions.”
Both men eventually found Florida more convenient than New York: The former president’s Mar-a-Lago property is 80 miles along the same Palm Beach boulevard as Limbaugh’s $ 50 million beach extension.
Trump called in the Fox News Channel to discuss his friend’s death on Wednesday, saying they last spoke three or four days ago, praising him as “a legend” with impeccable political instincts who “fought to the end.”
Former President George W. Bush said Limbaugh “spoke his mind like a voice to millions of Americans.”
Limbaugh influenced Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and countless other conservative commentators who pushed the boundaries of what passes as acceptable public discourse.
His brand of blunt debate without greed spread to cable television, town hall meetings, political meetings and Congress itself, which emerged during the battles over health care and the rise of the tea party movement.
“What he did was bring paranoia and really mean, nasty rhetoric and hyperpartisanship into the mainstream,” said Martin Kaplan, a professor at the University of Southern California who is an expert on the intersection of politics and entertainment and a frequent critic of Limbaugh. “The kind of contradiction and vitality that characterized him immediately became acceptable everywhere.”
Such criticism was repeated over and over again, but Limbaugh only seemed to push on and compile an ever-growing list of these brand enemies, of the issues that the audience is alleged to be deceived by and the lies that the mainstream media allegedly fed.
He offered a litany of it to his listeners, who in a 1991 broadcast he quotes heavily in his first book, “The Way Things Ought to Be.” In the only show, in a breathless segment, he donated to the homeless, AIDS patients, criticism of Christopher Columbus, aid to the Soviet Union, condoms in schools, advocates for animal rights, multiculturalism, the social safety net and so on.
His enemies accused him of human trafficking with half-truths, bias and complete lies – just the tactics he rejected in others. Al Franken, the comedian and one-time senator, came out with a 1996 book called “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.”
Earlier this year, Limbaugh took a dismissive tone to those who demanded that the violence end after the ugly scenes of a mob uprising at the Capitol and compared the riots to the colonists who triggered the American Revolution.
“We should be appalled by the protesters,” Limbaugh told his listeners the day after the January 6 attack. “There are many people out there who demand an end to violence … who say that all violence or aggression is unacceptable at all, regardless of the circumstances.”
“I’m glad Sam Adams … Thomas Paine … the tea party guys themselves … the men at Lexington and Concord, did not feel that way,” he added.
In 2003, Limbaugh acknowledged an addiction to painkillers and went into rehab. Authorities launched an investigation into alleged “medical shopping” and said he received up to 2,000 pills from four doctors over six months.
He eventually reached an agreement with prosecutors in which they agreed to drop the charge if he continued with drug treatment and paid $ 30,000 at the expense of the investigation.
He lost his hearing around that time. He said it was from an autoimmune disease, while his critics said that hearing loss is a known side effect of painkillers. He received cochlear implants, which restored his hearing and saved his career.
A portly, cigar-bodied, round-faced figure, Limbaugh divorced three times, after marrying Roxy Maxine McNeely in 1977, Michelle Sixta in 1983 and Marta Fitzgerald in 1994. He married his fourth wife, formerly Kathryn Rogers, in a lavish 2010 ceremony with Elton John. He had no children.
( Jowharwith AP)