Rush Limbaugh, a monumental force for conservatism and a talk radio legend who reigned over the airwaves for more than three decades, died Wednesday from lung cancer. He was 70 years old.
Limbaugh’s wife Kathryn made the sad announcement Wednesday morning on Limbaugh’s syndicated radio show, reaching out to the radio host’s millions of fans in a statement. “Losing a loved one is terribly difficult,” she said, “even more so when that loved one is larger than life. Rush will forever be the greatest of all time.”
Rush Limbaugh wielded tremendous influence in both politics and media, establishing himself early on as a master of the talk radio medium, pulling in listeners from coast-to-coast and giving a voice to conservatives, long locked out of entertainment.
Limbaugh’s love of radio began early. He became a “helper” at a radio station near his hometown of Cape Girardeau, Missouri at just 16 years old. He eventually graduated to disc jockey, then moved on to morning radio, eventually delivering the “farm news” daily to Pittsburgh audiences.
Limbaugh got his start behind the microphone as a morning talk show host in 1983 at Kansas City’s KMBZ. He moved to California’s KFBK in 1986 and, there, honed his skills as a morning talk show host, eventually gaining national attention for his bombastic style and counter-cultural ideas. In 1988, Limbaugh relocated to New York and signed his first syndication deal for “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” giving his ideas a national audience and cementing his legacy.
His daily show on New York’s WABC aired on 56 networks and eventually grew into easily the most listened-to radio program of all time, reaching an incredible 27 million listeners on more than 600 stations.
By 1993, Limbaugh was a member of the National Radio Hall of Fame, a published author, and a titan of political life, often exerting immense influence on national policy, particularly during former President Bill Clinton’s stay in the White House. In many ways, he shaped the modern Republican Party, becoming an early supporter of the Tea Parties in 2009 and of then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016, often stressing a conservative revolution against party elites.
“We stood for the concepts that are in our Declaration of Independence: Right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness,” Limbaugh said several years ago in a look back at his career. “We stood for that, and we were the beacon for it, and to this day that is why the oppressed of the world still seek to come into this country.”
His influence lives on even for those who were not shaped by his program; Limbaugh was a foundational icon of conservative media and launched a generation of conservative voices, and his influence is felt by all those who came after. Beyond that, Limbaugh was reputed to be a kind and generous soul who greatly encouraged his proteges to be bigger and bolder in their defense of liberty.
In a landmark speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2009, Limbaugh gave what would become one of the best explanations of conservative beliefs.
“We love people,” he said. “When we look out over the United States of America, when we are anywhere, when we see a group of people, such as this or anywhere, we see Americans. We see human beings. We don’t see groups. We don’t see victims. We don’t see people we want to exploit. What we see — what we see is potential. We do not look out across the country and see the average American, the person that makes this country work. We do not see that person with contempt. We don’t think that person doesn’t have what it takes. We believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations, and too much government.”
“We want every American to be the best he or she chooses to be. We recognize that we are all individuals. We love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” he added to raucous applause. “We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, Freedom and the pursuit of happiness.”
Limbaugh struggled with an auto-immune disease that partially took his hearing in 2001 and led to a battle with opioid addiction. He announced that he was battling Stage IV lung cancer in January of last year, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at Donald Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address. In his speech bestowing the nation’s top civilian award on the radio powerhouse, Trump thanked Limbaugh for his “tireless dedication” to the conservative cause.
Although Rush Limbaugh did not officially say goodbye to his fans, he did make a tearful statement during what would ultimately be his last on-air broadcast.
“I wasn’t expected to be alive today,” he told his millions of listeners. “I wasn’t expected to make it to October, and then to November, and then to December. And yet, here I am, and today, got some problems, but I’m feeling pretty good today.”