“Pioneer.” “Godfather.” “America’s Anchorman.” “Son of Missouri.”
Rush Hudson Limbaugh III, the iconic radio personality, died Wednesday from complications of lung cancer at 70 years old. A native of Cape Girardeau, Limbaugh cemented his legacy in the annals of conservative history with his fiery rhetoric and political commentary over his decades-long career.
Limbaugh was controversial and a provocateur, for sure, but his discernable voice permeated into millions of homes, speaking to fellow Republicans and leaving an indelible mark on both talk news and conservative policies.
“Rush was one of the most consequential voices in modern conservatism. An entire generation solidified their conservative beliefs with his voice leading the way,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said. “A son of Missouri whose impact will live on for decades to come.”
Limbaugh shared news of his lung cancer diagnosis in February 2020. Still, he continued to broadcast his show. But on Tuesday, author Mark Steyn guest-hosted “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” starting the broadcast with the announcement: “Yes, ‘America’s Anchorman’ is away. You know why that is. Rush continues to recover from, I think, last week was treatment week. He’s resting up, and we hope he’s feeling better and will be back behind the golden EIB microphone very soon.”
On Wednesday, Limbaugh’s wife, Kathryn Adams Limbaugh, shared a somber message to supporters.
“I know I am most certainly not the Limbaugh you tuned in to listen to today. I, like you, very much wish Rush was behind this golden microphone right now, welcoming you to another exceptional three hours of broadcasting,” she said. “It is with profound sadness I must share with you directly that our beloved Rush, my wonderful husband, passed away this morning due to complications from lung cancer.”
The self-proclaimed “Doctor of Democracy” began his radio career in the early 1970s after dropping out of college. But it wasn’t until August 1988 that “The Rush Limbaugh Show” made its debut. According to his website, 27 million people each week listen to his talk show as it’s played on more than 600 stations.
From Pittsburgh to Sacramento to Kansas City to New York, Limbaugh tried his hand at a bevy of other broadcasting ventures aside from his successful radio show. He worked as a disc jockey for a local radio station and had a brief stint with ESPN as a professional football commentator. He also appeared on television and authored several books, including two New York Times bestsellers.
In 1979, Limbaugh also left the broadcast world and quickly worked his way up to Director of Sales and Special Events for the Kansas City Royals. But he would return to his true love — radio — after about four years.
Like many Limbaugh aficionados, former Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley said he first began to develop an interest in politics just by listening to his show. In 2012, Tilly inducted Limbaugh into the Hall of Famous Missourians with a bust in the state Capitol. (Limbaugh’s bust is the only one to have a security camera pointed at it.)
“Rush will go down as the greatest radio personality ever, and not just politically if you look at his viewership and his weekly listening audience,” Tilley said. “The fact that he was a conservative and from Southeast Missouri was a great source of pride.”
Limbaugh, with a penchant for parodies, wasn’t afraid to speak his mind — even when it came with intense backlash. He was notorious for his controversial and oft brash opinions on race and social issues, among other things. He had a remarkable ability to elicit emotion from those who tuned in, even briefly, to his show: enraging liberals and further endearing conservatives to him or his cause.
Maybe more so than many other figures on the right, Limbaugh was revered among conservatives and undisputedly drove Republican policy and ideas. Limbaugh, for sure, had the ear of multiple GOP presidents, including former President Donald Trump who bestowed upon him the Presidential Medal of Freedom at his State of the Union address last year.
In a statement, Trump said Limbaugh’s “honor, courage, strength, and loyalty will never be replaced.”
Limbaugh was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993 and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1998.
He came from a politically prominent family: His grandfather, Rush Limbaugh Sr., was a Missouri legislator and ambassador to India for the U.S. legal system. Steven Limbaugh, his uncle, was a federal judge appointed by former President Ronald Reagan. Cousin Steven Limbaugh Jr. is a federal judge, having been appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush.
As news of his death broke, lawmakers, past and present, paid tribute to the Missouri native. Gov. Mike Parson said he spoke to Limbaugh’s family about his “legacy in our state and across the nation,” adding he is keeping the family in his prayers.
“Listening to Rush was my first introduction to politics in my early 20s in the early 1990s,” state Sen. Holly Rehder, who represents Cape Girardeau, said. “Since then, I’ve loved his common sense, belief in personal responsibility, and hard work — such an incredible legacy.”
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said Limbaugh’s “voice will be missed.”
“RIP to The Godfather of modern talk radio Rush Limbaugh. I grew up on my dad’s construction job site listening to Rush every day from 11 to 2,” former House Speaker Elijah Haahr said. “His impact on radio and the GOP is impossible to overstate.”
“As so many of you know, losing a loved one is terribly difficult. Even more so when that loved one is larger than life. Rush will forever be the greatest of all time,” Kathryn Adams Limbaugh said.
A look at how other Missouri politicians, others are remembering Limbaugh
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt: “From his first job in high school as a radio personality in Cape Girardeau to the EIB Network, Rush Limbaugh changed the way Americans talked about issues every day. He reshaped talk radio and became one of the most powerful conservative voices in our country, but always stayed grounded in his Missouri roots and Midwest values. I, along with millions of others, will miss hearing his unique perspective.”
U.S. Senator Josh Hawley: “A proud son of Missouri, Rush Limbaugh was a voice for the voiceless. He changed talk radio, but more importantly, Rush changed the conversation to speak up for the forgotten, and challenge the establishment. He lived the First Amendment and told hard truths that made the elite uncomfortable, but made sure working men and women had a seat at the table. Erin and I are praying for the Limbaugh family.”
Attorney General Eric Schmitt: “Rest In Peace to Missouri’s own Rush Limbaugh — an authentic voice for American conservatives. He competed in the marketplace of ideas every day and helped shape a movement.”
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer: “A Missourian. A pioneer in his industry. Prayers for the entire Limbaugh family. RIP, Rush.”
A Missourian. A pioneer in his industry. Prayers for the entire Limbaugh family. RIP, Rush. https://t.co/QksbxBeu1X
— Tony Luetkemeyer (@TonyForMissouri) February 17, 2021
Former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder: “R.I.P. my lifelong friend Rush Limbaugh.”
R.I.P. my lifelong friend Rush Limbaugh
— Peter Kinder (@PeterKinder) February 17, 2021
State Rep. Travis Fitzwater: “My first political memories were being driven around Orlando, FL where I grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio whom my mother listened to religiously. His intro tune will forever be etched in my memory. His political mind forever an inspiration. RIP Rush.”
Missouri GOP Chairman Nick Myers: “Limbaugh was a master communicator whose presence in the media let millions know daily that they were not alone in their common-sense conservatism. His big voice was an integral part in bringing election victories to our state and nation. While we mourn his loss, we know his ideas will continue to shape our world for many years to come. May the Good Lord comfort his wife and family as they mourn.”
This story has been updated.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at email@example.com.