Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radios Provocateur, Dies at 70

Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radios Provocateur, Dies at 70

A longtime favorite of the right, he was a furious critic of Barack Obama and a full-throated cheerleader for Donald J. Trump.

Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio’s Provocateur, Dies at 70 – The New York Times

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Rush Limbaugh Dies at 70; Turned Talk Radio Into a Right-Wing Attack Machine

With a following of 15 million and a divisive style of mockery, grievance and denigrating language, he was a force in reshaping American conservatism.

Rush Limbaugh in 1994. For more than three decades he led attacks on liberals, Democrats, feminists, environmentalists and many others.Credit…Eddie Adams/Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

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Feb. 17, 2021Updated 7:52 p.m. ET

Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio megastar whose slashing, divisive style of mockery and grievance reshaped American conservatism, denigrating Democrats, environmentalists, “feminazis” (his term) and other liberals while presaging the rise of Donald J. Trump, died on Wednesday at his home in Palm Beach, Fla. He was 70.

His wife, Kathryn, announced the death at the start of Mr. Limbaugh’s radio show, a decades-long destination for his flock of more than 15 million listeners. “I know that I am most certainly not the Limbaugh that you tuned in to listen to today,” she said, before adding that he had died that morning from complications of lung cancer.

Mr. Limbaugh last February. A day later, , the nation’s highest civilian honor, during the State of the Union address.

Since his emergence in the 1980s as one of the first broadcasters to take charge of a national political call-in show, Mr. Limbaugh transformed the once-sleepy sphere of talk radio into a relentless right-wing attack machine, his voice a regular feature of daily life — from homes to workplaces and the commute in between — for millions of devoted listeners.

ranged from baldfaced lies about Barack Obama’s birthplace — the president “has yet to have to prove that he’s a citizen,” he said falsely in 2009 — to claims that Mr. Obama’s 2009 health care bill would empower “death panels” and “euthanize” elderly Americans. In the wake of last year’s election, he amplified Mr. Trump’s groundless claims of voter fraud; on President Biden’s Inauguration Day, during one of his final broadcasts, he insisted to listeners that the new administration had “not legitimately won it.”

In 1995, in the days after the Oklahoma City bombing, President Bill Clinton denounced the “promoters of paranoia” on talk radio — remarks that were widely seen as aimed at Mr. Limbaugh.

’s immense popularity had a profound effect on the country’s media landscape. Dozens of right-wing talkers cropped up on local radio stations emulating his divisive commentary. “There is no talk radio as we know it without Rush Limbaugh; it just doesn’t exist,” Sean Hannity, the conservative Fox News and talk-radio star, said in a tribute to Mr. Limbaugh on Wednesday. “I’d even make the argument, in many ways there’s no Fox News or even some of these other opinionated cable networks.”

In the Limbaugh lexicon, advocates for the homeless were “compassion fascists,” women who defended abortion rights were “feminazis,” environmentalists were “tree-hugging wackos.” He called global warming a hoax and cruelly ridiculed Michael J. Fox, imitating the tremors that were a symptom of the actor’s Parkinson’s disease.

When hundreds of thousands of Americans were dying of AIDS, Mr. Limbaugh ran a regular segment called “AIDS updates,” in which he mocked the deaths of gay men by playing Dionne Warwick’s recording of the song “I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” He later for the segment, but he continued to make homophobic remarks over the years; in 2020, he dismissed the presidential bid of Pete Buttigieg by claiming that Americans would be repelled by a “gay guy kissing his husband onstage.”

In 2012, Mr. Limbaugh lambasted Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student, as a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she had testified at a congressional hearing in support of the Obama administration’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraceptives for women.

“If we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it; we want you to post the videos online so we can all watch,” Mr. Limbaugh said. After he was denounced by President Obama and congressional leaders and companies pulled advertising from his show, Mr. Limbaugh issued a rare mea culpa, relying on one of his more common excuses: that his comments had been meant in good fun.

“My choice of words was not the best,” he said, “and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

Living in Luxury

Mr. Limbaugh presented himself as a tribune of blue-collar America even as his program made him fabulously rich. He collected $85 million a year and lived in a 24,000-square-foot oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach. (He sold his Manhattan apartment, on Fifth Avenue, in 2010.)

about election fraud, telling listeners in December that Mr. Biden “didn’t win this thing fair and square” and toying with the idea that the nation was “trending toward secession.”

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