Rush Limbaugh, the conservative firebrand radio host who was a pillar of right-wing media in the U.S. for more than 30 years, died on Wednesday after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 70.
Limbaugh’s wife, Kathryn, announced the news on his radio show.
Limbaugh disclosed the severity of his illness to listeners of his syndicated “The Rush Limbaugh Show” in February 2020 when he took several days off to receive treatment. That same month he was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Donald Trump.
Limbaugh wielded enormous influence in politics. He was beloved by conservatives and reviled by liberals. He contributed to the coarsening of public discourse by referring to prominent women as “femi-Nazis” and by belittling those who disagreed with him. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Limbaugh repeatedly referred to Barack Obama as the “affirmative-action candidate.”
Limbaugh was one of the most popular personalities on radio and one of the most well paid. In 2008, he signed an eight-year deal with Premiere Networks valued at $400 million. His audience at its peak was estimated at about 25 million a week.
Limbaugh was born on Jan. 12, 1951, in Cape Girardeau, Mo., to a prominent family. Limbaugh reportedly told his father, an attorney, that he wanted to be a radio host at the age of 8. In high school he worked as a disc jockey for a local radio station owned by his father.
He attended Southern Missouri State University, but left after a year to try his hand at radio. He worked at ABC-owned radio station KQV in Pittsburgh. He later moved to Kansas City to join the Royals baseball team as director of group ticket sales, and later advanced to director of sales and special events.
In 1983, Limbaugh was back in radio as a commentator on Kansas City’s KMBZ. He moved to Sacramento, Calif., the following year and landed a daytime talk show on KFBK. The show’s ratings took off, and Limbaugh began getting national attention. He moved to New York and signed his first syndication deal with ABC Radio Networks in 1988.
Limbaugh was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993. He penned a number of bestselling books including 1992’s “The Way Things Ought to Be” and 1993’s “See, I Told You So,” and the children’s book series “The Incredible Adventures of Rush Revere.”
Limbaugh made a brief return to sports broadcasting in 2003, when ESPN hired him as an analyst for “Sunday NFL Countdown.” Four weeks into his tenure, Limbaugh left the show after sparking outrage when he disparaged the Philadelphia Eagles’ Donovan McNabb. Limbaugh said that the star quarterback was overrated because “the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.”
The broadcaster was mourned by conservatives, including former President George W. Bush, who said in a statement Wednesday, “Laura and I are sorry to learn that Rush Limbaugh has passed away. A son of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Rush rose as a pioneer of talk radio starting in the 1980s, and was a friend throughout my Presidency. While he was brash, at times controversial, and always opinionated, he spoke his mind as a voice for millions of Americans and approached each day with gusto.
Others recalled moments such as when Limbaugh used the airwaves to mock Michael J. Fox’s display of symptoms from Parkinson’s Disease or compare then 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton to a dog.
That time Rush Limbaugh made fun of Michael J Fox and his Parkinson’s disease. pic.twitter.com/7CuHlE5Lpy
— Sage Rosenfels (@SageRosenfels18) February 5, 2020
Chelsea Clinton was 13 years-old when Rush Limbaugh aired this "joke" about her on his television program. Imagine being 13, with all the anxiety of that age, and this airs on national television. pic.twitter.com/Ha4XmsCUTl
— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) February 17, 2021
Limbaugh was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame in 1998. He was married four times. His survivors include his wife, Kathryn.