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Rush Limbaugh (1951–2021), iconic conservative talk show host

by Linnea Crowther

Rush Limbaugh was a conservative radio talk show host known as one of the most iconic voices of the political right for more than 30 years.

Voice of modern conservatism

“The Rush Limbaugh Show,” syndicated on hundreds of radio stations, was the top-rated U.S. talk radio show. Limbaugh was widely listened to by the conservative radio audience, which named him the most trusted news personality in America in a 2008 poll.

He was honored over the years as a National Radio Hall of Fame member, an honorary member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a five-time winner of the Marconi Radio Award for Syndicated Radio Personality of the Year.

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Limbaugh influenced conservative voters and politicians alike as he championed small government, U.S. military power, and capitalism. President Donald Trump’s populist appeal seemed to follow naturally after decades of Limbaugh’s pro-America, pro-conservative monologues, delivered with a smile, a biting joke, and a wacky sound effect. His cheerfully vicious skewering of liberal targets paved the way for the success of right-wing media outlets from Fox News to Breitbart News to Newsmax.

Limbaugh’s signature style as a talk show host was frequently copied by those who followed him, particularly the invention of snappy new satirical catchphrases for hot topics. He popularized the term “feminazi” to mock feminism, dubbed the military prison at Guantanamo Bay “Club Gitmo,” and referred to mainstream news outlets as “drive-by media.” Likewise, he regularly re-named major public figures with alternative nicknames, such as “The Hilldebeast” for Hillary Clinton and “Mooch-elle” for Michelle Obama.

His frequently expressed views included a disdain for feminism, a disbelief in climate change, support for U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, and condemnation of illegal drug use.

Limbaugh branched out to TV for a half-hour talk show in the 1990s, produced by Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Preferring his long-standing radio format, Limbaugh bowed out of the TV landscape after a few years.

In 2020, Trump awarded Limbaugh the National Medal of Freedom.

Controversies

Limbaugh invited controversy with many of his statements, including racially-charged and anti-LGBTQ sentiments, which he would sometimes retract after receiving blowback — as when he told an African-American caller to “take that bone out of your nose and call me back” and later said he felt guilty about the statement. He was among the prominent personalities to spread the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen by birth.

Another major media controversy involved law student Sandra Fluke, who advocated before Congress for birth control to be covered by insurance, and whom Limbaugh called a “slut” and a “prostitute” for her public policy views.

In 2003, Limbaugh admitted to his listeners that he was addicted to prescription pain medications, which he began taking for severe back pain. His alleged illegal pursuit of the painkillers opened him to criticism from those who remembered his stance against illegal drugs.

Notable quote

“Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society.” —from “35 Undeniable Truths of Life,” originally published in the Sacramento Union

Tributes to Rush Limbaugh

Full obituary: Chicago Tribune

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