Conservative talkshow host Rush Limbaugh, who commands an audience of 22 million listeners a week, veered away Monday from discussion of the U.S. air strikes on Afghanistan to drop a bombshell of his own — he told his audience he has lost his hearing and may never regain it.
“I am, for all practical purposes, deaf,” said Limbaugh, 50, although he vowed to continue working. “I have lost my ability to hear. I have not yet lost my ability to communicate,” he emphasized.
Limbaugh, one of the most controversial figures in talk radio, added, “My desire is to continue doing this, and there are an infinite ways of continuing. I mean I’m doing this program today, in effect, in total deafness.”
This summer, Limbaugh renewed his contract with the Premiere Radio Networks through 2009, reportedly for the highest price ever in radio syndication. Through his call-in show and a 90-second radio commentary, he reaches some 20 million listeners on nearly 600 stations.
Representatives of Premiere Radio Networks could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Limbaugh said his hearing has continued to deteriorate since May, when he discovered he heard nothing in his left ear. Limbaugh said he was exploring surgical procedures and other measures to restore or retain what’s left of his hearing.
“I cannot hear a thing in my left ear with hearing aids, the most powerful made — I mean nothing. I have the ability to recognize sound but not identify it in my right ear,” Limbaugh said.
The revelation sent shock waves through the industry.
“Imagine trying to talk for a living and not hearing what you’re saying?” said Lorrin Palagi, a radio consultant for Zapoleon Media Strategies.
“I think this will affect his audience only positively,” Palagi added. “Rush Limbaugh has so much passion for what he does, it will overcome any physical handicap he may come to endure.”
While many listeners and radio industry executives had noticed something was amiss and that Limbaugh was sounding different as of late, few had suspected deafness.
“Something seemed a little different in his speech pattern,” said Phil Boyce, program director for WABC-AM in New York, who has worked with the Florida-based Limbaugh.
Boyce said he believed that calls into the show were being transcribed onto a TelePrompTer for Limbaugh to read.
“I don’t know if he can continue. I sure hope he can, he’s my highest-rated host and, on a more personal level, I really like Rush and so do most program directors,” Boyce said.
He added that Limbaugh has said he plans to visit a doctor this week in Los Angeles to explore various treatments. Limbaugh said he is trying all sorts of medication.
Limbaugh told listeners he was grateful for all the support he has gotten throughout the years.