Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh at the microphone in 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Provocative and polarizing U.S. talk radio luminary Rush Limbaugh, whose initial success came in Sacramento in the early 1980s, has died of lung cancer at the age of 70.

Limbaugh, who pioneered conservative talk radio, announced in February 2020 that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

In a statement on Facebook announcing his death, his wife Kathryn Adams Limbaugh wrote, “Rush’s love for our country, and for all of you, will live on eternally.”

Limbaugh’s appeal and the success of his top-rated radio show arose from his brash and colorful style, his delight in baiting liberals and Democrats, and his promotion of conservative and Republican causes and politicians.

He achieved initial success at KFBK in Sacramento with a show launched in 1984. A major boost came in 1987, when the Federal Communications Commission repealed rules requiring broadcasters to provide equal time to both sides of political debates. Limbaugh moved to New York and became nationally syndicated in 1988 and quickly built a large and committed following, making him wealthy in the process.

During a daily show broadcast on more than 600 radio stations across the United States, Limbaugh espoused an unflinchingly populist brand of conservatism. He railed against left-wing causes from global warming to healthcare reform as he helped shape the Republican Party’s agenda in the media and mobilize its grass-roots supporters.

Rep. Darrell Issa of East County, the lone San Diego County Republican in Congress, said via Twitter: “America has lost an incomparable icon of broadcasting, media and the communication arts. The conservative movement has lost one of its most treasured and happy warriors. And we have lost a brave and generous friend like no other.”

Limbaugh also ridiculed mainstream news outlets and relished the controversies often sparked by his on-air commentary. His success helped spawn a new class of right-wing pundits on radio, television and the internet, among them Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Alex Jones.

More recently, Limbaugh promoted former President Trump’s false claims to have had the 2020 presidential election stolen from him through widespread fraud and irregularities. After Democrat Joe Biden was inaugurated as Trump’s successor last month, Limbaugh told listeners the new president had not legitimately won.

Speaking on Fox News on Wednesday, Trump said of Limbaugh: “He was very brave. He was fighting until the end.”

Trump awarded Limbaugh the highest U.S. civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom — during his 2020 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

But mainstream Republicans also praised Limbaugh. Former President George W. Bush said in a statement, “While he was brash, at times controversial, and always opinionated, he spoke his mind as a voice for millions of Americans and approached each day with gusto.”

Reuters contributed to this article.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.