Who Was Rush Limbaugh?
After breaking into a radio career in the 1970s, Rush Limbaugh was fired for being too controversial as a news commentator. However, by 1984, he had become the top radio host in Sacramento, California. Limbaugh's greatest success came in August 1988, when The Rush Limbaugh Show (nationally syndicated from New York City by the ABC Radio Network) premiered. Known for its heavy political focus and sometimes extreme conservative slant, The Rush Limbaugh Show has been on the air for more than three decades. Limbaugh also makes regular appearances as a political commentator on television, and has authored a number of magazine articles and books, including The Way Things Ought to Be (1992).
Limbaugh was born Rush Hudson Limbaugh III on January 12, 1951, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, into a highly regarded local family. His paternal grandfather, Rush Hudson Limbaugh, served as a U.S. ambassador to India under President Dwight D. Eisenhower; an uncle served as a federal judge during Ronald Reagan's presidency; and his conservative father, Rush Hudson Limbaugh II, worked as an attorney.
By the time he was 8 years old, Limbaugh had set his sights on a career in radio. His father, however, had a more stable career in mind for his son. "I said, 'Pop, I love this. I know I'm great at it. I'm gonna get even better,'" Limbaugh remembered. But Rush Limbaugh II remained opposed to his son's goal, and because of it, Rush soon was viewed as a rebel to the rest of the Limbaugh clan.
"Perhaps if there was a black sheep in our family, it was me, because I never—I've never been a conformist," Limbaugh later said, adding, "I was hugely rebellious. I hated school because it's what everybody else had to do. I hated being locked up from the second grade on in a room. ... The guy on the radio's having fun ... he's not going to some room having to learn to paste."
Though Limbaugh's family frowned upon his aspirations for a career in radio, they didn't completely ignore his passion for broadcasting. At the age of 9, Limbaugh received a Remco Caravelle, a toy radio that could transmit on AM frequencies up to 500 feet away.
"I would take this up to my bedroom and play records and play DJ ... to the house, and my mother and dad would sit down and listen to me. ... The quality was horrible, but I was on the radio," Limbaugh recalled. As for why he believed his family had a change of heart about his pursuits: "I had quit the Boy Scouts and the Cub Scouts. I was a quitter. ... This was the one thing I didn't quit, so they ... indulged it, because, 'At least he's showing he'll stick-to-it-tiveness.'"
Early Radio Career
Limbaugh landed his first radio job when he was in high school; using the pseudonym "Rusty Sharpe," he worked as a DJ for the local station KGMO (co-owned by his father). Following high school, Limbaugh briefly attended Southeast Missouri State University; he left the school in 1971, after one year of enrollment, to pursue a career in radio.
However, Limbaugh had trouble keeping a position. He was fired from stations in Missouri and Pennsylvania for being too controversial as news commentator. "My whole family thought I was destined for failure," he later recalled.
Following a stint as a ticket salesman for Major League Baseball's Kansas City Royals, in the mid-1980s, Limbaugh landed a job as an on-air host at KFBK in Sacramento, California, with the help of a radio executive friend. There, Limbaugh took over Morton Downey Jr.'s slot, and met with success when his ratings surpassed his predecessor's. Less than a year later, Limbaugh became known as Sacramento's top radio host.
In 1987, the Federal Communications Commission repealed a long-standing rule known as the Fairness Doctrine, which required both television and radio stations to air for an equal amount of time each side to a political argument. The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine ultimately paved the way for Limbaugh's now-distinct, politically conservative radio style to take shape. Not long after, the on-air host left KFBK for a position at the ABC Radio Network, bringing his newfound fame with him, as well as a reputation for having strong, right wing ideologies.
'The Rush Limbaugh Show'
The Rush Limbaugh Show, nationally syndicated from New York City by ABC Radio, premiered on August 1, 1988. Known for its heavy political focus and sometimes extreme conservative slant, The Rush Limbaugh Show has been on the air for more than three decades, at one point becoming the highest-rated American talk radio program. The show is currently syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks, and can be heard on more than 600 stations nationwide.
In addition to his success on the radio, Limbaugh makes regular appearances as a political commentator on various TV programs, and has authored numerous articles and books, including 1992's best-selling The Way Things Ought to Be and 1993's See, I Told You So.
"It's my job, it's my life, it's my career, it's my passion," Limbaugh once said about his politically charged career as a radio host, commentator and writer. "I'm doing what I love. I think I'm doing what I was born to do. I have no specific goals from this point forward. I never have had specific goals. I've always thought, 'I know generally what I want to do. I want to be in media, I want to be in radio.' It's what I love. It's what I do best. And I'm open to all opportunities that come my way."
Limbaugh was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993 and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1998. Additionally, he's a five-time winner of the National Association of Broadcasters Marconi Award for Excellence in Syndicated and Network Broadcasting.
Personal Life and Health
Following three divorces, Limbaugh married his fourth wife, Kathryn Adams, in 2010.
In October 2003, the radio host admitted to being addicted to prescription painkillers. He said he became reliant on them after undergoing spinal surgery a half-decade earlier.
In February 2020, Limbaugh revealed that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Shortly afterward, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during Donald Trump's State of the Union address.
Limbaugh died on February 17, 2021, after a battle with advanced lung cancer.
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