Talk radio pioneer Rush Limbaugh died of complications from lung cancer at the age of 70, his wife, Kathryn, announced at the beginning of the host’s radio program on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
In Feb. 2020, Limbaugh said he had advanced lung cancer.
Unflinchingly conservative, wildly partisan, bombastically self-promoting and larger than life, Limbaugh galvanized listeners for more than 30 years. He called himself an entertainer, but his three-hour weekday radio show broadcast on nearly 600 U.S. stations helped shape the national political conversation, swaying ordinary Republicans and the direction of their party.
“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.”
Trump, like a long line of conservative politicians before him, heaped praise on Limbaugh, and during last year’s State of the Union speech, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. On Wednesday, Trump lauded Limbaugh on Fox News as “a legend” who “was fighting till the very end.”
Limbaugh influenced the likes of Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and countless other conservative commentators.
His brand of blunt, no-gray-area debate spread to cable TV, town hall meetings, political rallies and Congress itself, emerging during the battles over health care and the ascent of the tea party movement.
Rush Hudson Limbaugh III was born Jan. 12, 1951, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. His mother was the former Mildred Armstrong, and his father, Rush Limbaugh Jr., was a lawyer.
Rusty, as the younger Limbaugh was known, was chubby and shy, with little interest in school but a passion for broadcasting. He would turn down the television during St. Louis Cardinals baseball games, offering play-by-play, and gave running commentary during the evening news. By high school, he had snagged a radio job.
Limbaugh dropped out of Southeast Missouri State University for a string of DJ gigs in which he was known as Rusty Sharpe and then Jeff Christie on the air, spinning Top 40 hits and sprinkling glimpses of his wit and conservatism.
But he didn’t gain the following he craved and gave up on radio for several years, beginning in 1979, becoming promotions director for baseball’s Kansas City Royals. He ultimately returned to broadcasting, again in Kansas City and then Sacramento, California.
It was there in the early 1980s that Limbaugh really garnered an audience.
Limbaugh began broadcasting nationally in 1988 from WABC in New York. While his know-it-all commentary quickly gained traction, he was dismayed by his reception in the big city. He thought he would be welcomed by Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather.
“I came to New York,” he wrote, “and I immediately became a nothing, a zero.”
Ultimately, Limbaugh moved his radio show to Palm Beach, Florida, where he died. His fourth wife, the former Kathryn Rogers, whom he married in 2010, survives him. He had no children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.