Provocative and polarizing U.S. talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, a leading voice on the American political right since the 1980s who boosted and was honoured by former U.S. president Donald Trump, has died, his family said Wednesday.
The veteran radio host died after after suffering from lung cancer, his wife, Kathryn, announced on a radio show. His death was also later announced on his website.
Limbaugh first announced his diagnosis in February 2020, saying he would take time off for medical tests and to determine treatment after noticing shortness of breath during his birthday weekend in January.
He said he intended to continue to work as much as possible, as well as focus on what he called his “deeply personal relationship” with God.
A day after he announced his diagnosis, Trump awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom in an unprecedented move during the State of the Union address.
WATCH | Trump surprises Rush Limbaugh with honour:
Limbaugh had not been publicly announced as a White House guest until the night before. When the honour was announced, Limbaugh appeared genuinely surprised, giving a nearly tearful reaction.
Unflinchingly conservative, wildly partisan, bombastically self-promoting and larger than life, Limbaugh galvanized listeners for more than 30 years with his talent for vituperation and sarcasm.
Shaping political conversations
He called himself an entertainer, but his rants during his three-hour weekday radio show, broadcast on nearly 600 U.S. stations, shaped the national political conversation, swaying ordinary Republicans and the direction of their party.
Blessed with a made-for-broadcasting voice, he delivered his opinions with such certainty that his followers, or “Ditto-heads,” as he dubbed them, took his words as sacred truth.
“In my heart and soul, I know I have become the intellectual engine of the conservative movement,” Limbaugh, with typical immodesty, told author Zev Chafets in the 2010 book Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One.
Limbaugh took as a badge of honour the title “most dangerous man in America.”
He said he was the “truth detector,” the “doctor of democracy,” a “lover of mankind,” a “harmless, lovable little fuzz ball” and an “all-around good guy.” He claimed he had “talent on loan from God.”
Long before Trump’s rise in politics, Limbaugh was pinning insulting names on his enemies and raging against the mainstream media, accusing it of feeding the public lies.
He called Democrats and others on the left communists, wackos, liberal extremists, radicals and “femi-nazis,” a term he coined.
Forbes magazine estimated his 2018 income at $84 million US, ranking him behind only Howard Stern among radio personalities.
A career of controversies
He began broadcasting nationally in 1988 from WABC in New York, before moving his show to Palm Beach, Fla.
He had a late-night TV show in the 1990s that got decent ratings but lacklustre advertising because of his divisive message. When he guest-hosted The Pat Sajak Show in 1990, audience members called him a Nazi and repeatedly shouted at him.
He was fired from a short-lived job as an NFL commentator on ESPN in 2003 after he said the media had made a star out of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb because it was “very desirous that a Black quarterback do well.” His racial remarks also derailed a 2009 bid to become one of the owners of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.
“Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and just think to yourself, ‘I am just full of hot gas?’ ” David Letterman asked him in 1993 on The Late Show.
“I am a servant of humanity,” Limbaugh replied. “I am in the relentless pursuit of the truth. I actually sit back and think that I’m just so fortunate to have this opportunity to tell people what’s really going on.”