Alternate titles: Rush Hudson Limbaugh III Written and fact-checked by The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica • Article History
Rush Limbaugh, in full Rush Hudson Limbaugh III, (born January 12, 1951, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, U.S.— Rush Limbaugh death February 17, 2021, Palm Beach, Florida), American radio personality and author known for his ultraconservative and often controversial views.
Growing up as the elder of two sons in a well-known family from Cape Girardeau, Limbaugh began working at the local radio station during his high school years. After graduating, he attended Southeast Missouri State University for a year before dropping out. In 1971, he left home to pursue a career in radio, but after being let go from stations in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, he quit the industry in 1978 to work in ticket sales for the Kansas City Royals. After five years, he returned to radio as a news commentator, but was again fired for his controversial comments. However, his unique style caught the attention of station KFBK in Sacramento, which was searching for a replacement for Morton Downey Jr. and hired Limbaugh in 1984. Within a year, he became the top radio host in Sacramento.
In 1988, Limbaugh signed a contract with EFM Media Management and moved to New York City, where his program “The Rush Limbaugh Show” premiered on August 1st. Within a period of five years, the three-hour show became the most popular talk show on radio, with an estimated 20 million listeners tuning in weekly. Limbaugh’s program was filled with his conservative political commentary, satire, and a heavy dose of his own personality. He rarely had guests, and his callers were mostly fans who referred to themselves as “dittoheads.” His daily commentaries often sparked controversy, targeting groups such as feminists, whom he referred to as “Feminazis”, and claiming their movement was established “to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.” He also made controversial statements about the homeless and the Democratic party, claiming the majority of homeless people were “demented in one way or another,” and that the Democratic party “can’t wait to fund every abortion in the world.”
In 2003, while working as a sports analyst for ESPN, Limbaugh caused an uproar after making race-related comments about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Limbaugh declared that the “media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve.” Limbaugh ultimately resigned from the sports channel. Soon after, he entered a rehabilitation facility for an addiction to painkillers. In 2006 he was arrested for drug fraud after authorities alleged that he “doctor shopped” (illegally obtained prescriptions from multiple physicians). Limbaugh later reached a deal with prosecutors, and the charges were dropped after he received treatment.
Despite such controversies, Limbaugh exerted great influence among many Republicans. In 1994 he was credited with helping the Republican Party win control of both houses of Congress, and four years later he was a key figure in the efforts to impeach Pres. Bill Clinton. He was a major supporter of the administration of Pres. George W. Bush (2001–09), and in 2009 Limbaugh helped galvanize Republican opposition to a stimulus package proposed by Pres. Barack Obama and the Democrats. In 2008 he signed an eight-year deal worth some $400 million to remain on the radio, and he renewed his contract in 2016. He subsequently was a vocal advocate for Pres. Donald Trump.
Limbaugh wrote the best-selling books The Way Things Ought to Be (1992) and See, I Told You So (1993). He also penned the children’s series Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans: Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims (2013), Rush Revere and the First Patriots (2014), Rush Revere and the American Revolution (2014), Rush Revere and the Star-Spangled Banner (2015), and Rush Revere and the Presidency (2016); several of the books were written with his wife, Kathryn Adams Limbaugh. In 1993 he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. In February 2020 Limbaugh announced that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Shortly thereafter he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.