Rush Limbaugh, US conservative icon, dies aged 70

Rush Limbaugh, the controversial US radio personality and political commentator, has died aged 70. 

His wife Kathryn Adams announced his death on his radio show on Wednesday. He had been suffering from lung cancer. 

Best known as the host of the long-running talk radio programme The Rush Limbaugh Show, he was a towering figure in the conservative movement for years. 

Three presidents appeared on his show, and he received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2020.

But he was as controversial as he was influential, voicing racist, sexist and homophobic views throughout his career.

The climate change denier peddled numerous conspiracy theories on the air, staunchly opposed immigration, and was a hard-line advocate for US exceptionalism. He was also a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump.

Born in Missouri on 12 January 1951, Limbaugh first began working in radio at his local station when he was in high school. After graduating in 1969, he started at Southeast Missouri State University but dropped out after two semesters and took his first job at a music radio station in Pennsylvania.

Limbaugh initially struggled to succeed in broadcasting. He was fired from his first two jobs and moved back in with his parents in Missouri. He became the host of a public affairs talk show in Kansas City, but again lost his position. 

Rush Limbaugh presenting his radio show in 1995
image captionThe Rush Limbaugh Show has been on the air since the 1980s

In 1979, he began working for the Kansas City Royals baseball team. During this time he took trips to Europe and Asia, experiences Limbaugh later said reinforced his belief in US exceptionalism.

“I go to Europe and say, ‘Wait a minute. Why is this bedroom so damned old-fashion and doesn’t work? What the hell is this? They call this a toilet?’ So I started asking myself: ‘How is it that we, who have only been around 200 years, are light-years ahead of people that have been alive a thousand?'” he told his listeners in 2013.

Limbaugh returned to radio in 1983, launching The Rush Limbaugh Show the following year at California’s KFBK radio station.

But the outspoken conservative only began to find widespread success after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed its fairness doctrine in 1987 – a regulation requiring US broadcasters to present both sides of a controversial opinion. As the Wall Street Journal put it in 2005, this decision led to “hyper-articulate conservative hosts opening their microphones to millions of hyper-angry conservative voters”.

In 1988 the show became nationally syndicated, broadcast live on hundreds of radio stations around the country. By 2020, it attracted around 27 million listeners each week. 

The programme and its host developed huge influence in the Republican Party and the US conservative movement. 

President George HW Bush appeared on the programme during his re-election campaign in 1992, while his son George W Bush appeared six times – before, during and after his time in office. President Donald Trump also came on the show in January 2020, when Limbaugh – an ardent advocate of US interventions abroad – praised him for ordering a US drone strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

Rush Limbaugh with President Donald Trump
image captionRush Limbaugh was a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump

Limbaugh’s controversial views frequently caused outrage. 

He drew strong criticism for his use of racial stereotypes on his show, including once claiming that all newspaper composite images of wanted criminals looked like civil rights activist Rev Jesse Jackson. 

He declared his opposition to LGBT rights, and made derogatory remarks about victims of the HIV/Aids epidemic.

He dismissed sexual consent and disparaged advocates of women’s rights. “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society,” he once wrote, frequently dismissing women as “femi-Nazis”. 

And he voiced a number of lies and fringe theories to his listeners, claiming that President Barack Obama was not born in the US, denying the existence of man-made climate change, accusing environmentalists of deliberately causing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, and arguing that the dangers of smoking had been exaggerated while the benefits dismissed. “I would like a medal for smoking cigars, is what I’m saying,” he told listeners in 2015.

Rush Limbaugh at a rally in 2018
image captionHe was a hugely influential figure on the right in the US

In February 2020 he claimed the coronavirus was “the common cold” and said it was being “weaponised as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump”. 

Mr Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2020. The president said the highest civilian honour in the US was to recognise Limbaugh’s “decades of tireless devotion to our country” and his millions of daily listeners “that you speak to and inspire”. 

It came just the day after Limbaugh announced that he had advanced lung cancer.

In October he told his audience that the illness had progressed in “the wrong direction”. 

“I never thought I would see 1 October,” he said. 

Limbaugh married four times and divorced three times but never had any children. He leaves behind his wife Kathryn Rogers.

Source: BBC

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