Provocative and polarizing U.S. talk radio luminary Rush Limbaugh, a leading voice on the American political right since the 1980s who boosted, and was honored by, former President Donald Trump, has died at age 70 after suffering from lung cancer, Fox News reported on Wednesday.
Limbaugh, who pioneered the American media phenomenon of conservative talk radio and became an enthusiastic combatant in the U.S. culture wars, had announced in February 2020 that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
Limbaugh’s appeal and the success of his top-rated radio show arose from his brash and colorful style, his delight in baiting liberals and Democrats and his promotion of conservative and Republican causes and politicians. His radio show became nationally syndicated in 1988 and quickly built a large and committed following, making him wealthy in the process.
Trump, a former reality TV personality with a showman’s instincts who pursued right-wing populism during four years in the White House, awarded Limbaugh the highest U.S. civilian honor – the Presidential Medal of Freedom – during his 2020 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
First lady Melania Trump placed the medal around his neck after her husband lauded Limbaugh as “a special man beloved by millions of Americans” and “the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet.” Illustrating Limbaugh’s divisiveness, some Democratic lawmakers were heard groaning “oh no” while House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi – one of his favorite punching bags – sat in stony silence.
Trump honored Limbaugh a day after the radio star announced his cancer diagnosis. Limbaugh at the time said he planned to continue to do his program “as normally and as competently” as he could while he underwent treatment.
Limbaugh had experienced a variety of medical problems over the years, including a loss of hearing reversed by a cochlear implant, as well as an addiction to prescription painkillers that landed him in rehab in 2003.
Limbaugh espoused an unflinchingly populist brand of conservatism during a daily show broadcast on more than 600 radio stations across the United States. He railed against left-wing causes from global warming to healthcare reform as he helped shape the Republican Party’s agenda in the media and mobilize its grass-roots supporters.
He ridiculed mainstream news outlets and relished the controversies often sparked by his on-air commentary. Detractors like liberal former Senator Al Franken – a former comedian who wrote a book titled “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations” – criticized him as a divisive figure who distorted facts.
Still, Limbaugh’s success helped spawn a new class of right-wing pundits on radio, television and the internet, among them Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Alex Jones.
Limbaugh called his followers “ditto heads.” He coined the term “femi-Nazis” to disparage women’s rights activists. Limbaugh in 2012 called a law student who spoke to a congressional hearing about birth control a “slut,” causing some sponsors to pull their advertising from his show.