Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who hosted his eponymous radio program “The Rush Limbaugh Show” for the past 32 years, died on Wednesday, his wife announced on his show. He was 70 years old.
Limbaugh announced in February 2020 that he was diagnosed with advanced Stage 4 lung cancer. Shortly after, former President Donald Trump controversially awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during that year’s State of the Union address.
Limbaugh’s rise in talk radio led him to influence, often in detrimental ways, the conservative movement over the past few decades. Often lacking in policy points but heavy on personal attacks, Limbaugh’s show went after a number of groups, including feminists, members of the LGBTQ community, and racial minorities, as well as left-leaning individuals and organizations in general.
Limbaugh rarely held back or exercised restraint in his attacks, which were often baseless and petty — including several comments he made in the 1990s about the physical appearance of then-teenager Chelsea Clinton. He helped shape right-wing radio with such attacks, which were copied by countless other commentators throughout the country, frequently with the same hateful and vitriolic bantering he’d spout off on the daily show.
Some of Limbaugh’s more notable and detestable moments included calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” in 2012 for daring to suggest women deserved access to birth control; promulgating the “birtherism” conspiracy theory that wrongly alleged former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.; and more recently, pushing the unsubstantiated claims of a supposed “deep state” working against Trump during his only term in office.
His commentary often resulted in dangerous views that put his own listeners’ lives at risk. Limbaugh, for example, dismissed coronavirus as nothing more than the “common cold” at the early stages of the pandemic.
Just last month, the radio host also made some approving remarks about the January 6 attack of the Capitol building, which was carried out by a mob of Trump loyalists and resulted in at least seven deaths, including in the weeks following.
Several progressive voices spoke out about Limbaugh’s legacy, which they said would not be remembered well. Many recounted Limbaugh in general ways, pointing out that he helped to widen the divisive political gap in the U.S. through his programming and constant attacks over the past few decades:
Rush Limbaugh helped create today’s polarized America by normalizing racism, bigotry, misogyny and mockery. He was a demagogue who got rich off of hate speech, division, lies and toxicity. That is his legacy.
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) February 17, 2021
Obituary: A man unmournable, Limbaugh paved a way for the Alex Joneses of the world, allowing conspiracy theorists, bigots, racists and sexists to bloom freely and without consequence. He was a true coward masquerading as a provocateur, and will be remembered as nothing more. https://t.co/S8irGA5QN3
— Amber Tamblyn (@ambertamblyn) February 17, 2021
Rush Limbaugh fertilized the seeds of hatred for decades that allowed bigoted trash like Trump to crawl out from under his rock, and begin a campaign with "Mexican rapists."
— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) February 17, 2021
Others cited specific examples of Limbaugh’s cruel and bitter criticism of other individuals, sharing personal experiences of his attacks or remembering when he used his golden microphone to launch attacks against others:
I remember when Rush Limbaugh said he hated me and all the "stupid kids" striking for a better world. He said we were the victims of "leftist climate change child abuse".
I was 13.
— Alexandria Villaseñor (@AlexandriaV2005) February 17, 2021
Rush Limbaugh had a segment called "AIDS update" set to music where he mocked dying gay people so I don't really want hear about 'speaking ill of the dead' today
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) February 17, 2021
Among the many horrific things Rush Limbaugh did and said he was also a persistent disaster denialist.
It's a long list but in the past few years, he actively encouraged people not to follow hurricane evacuation orders (while evacuating himself). https://t.co/1LjTLyOSgt
— Dr. Samantha Montano (@SamLMontano) February 17, 2021
Remembering all those times Rush Limbaugh played the "Barack the Magic Negro" song on his show … or the times he called Obama a "halfrican American."
— Politics1.com (@Politics1com) February 17, 2021
I remember when Rush ranted about one of my essays and it sent waves of harassment to my social media accounts for days and people threatened my kids
— Lyz Lenz (@lyzl) February 17, 2021
Limbaugh’s rise to fame would not have been possible were it not for the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, former Federal Communications Commission chairman Reed Hundt explained:
Enacted 25 years ago, the Telecommunications Act barred the FCC from opposing the roll up of thousands of local radio stations by a few firms. These were mostly conservative politically. They wanted to give Limbaugh and similar conservative speakers [n]ational platforms. [Former Speaker of the House Newt] Gingrich insisted on this measure as a price for supporting [the] whole Act. Local radio, with local content matched to local taste, was soon bought up, changed into a conservative platform.
Many on the right spoke positively about Limbaugh. They also criticized others who recalled his legacy of hate and vitriol on social media — but as journalist Neil King pointed out, the talk radio host himself often engaged in similar behavior when his political opponents passed away.
“In case you’re shy about lambasting Limbaugh for what he was, he scoffed at the ‘slobbering media coverage’ the day [former U.S. Senator] Ted Kennedy died and called him the sort of politician who ‘takes money from people who work and gives it to people who don’t work,'” King wrote.
Within an hour of Limbaugh’s death being announced, Trump called into Fox News, breaking a media silence he’s held onto for the past several weeks in order to talk about the life of the radio host.
“He is a legend. He really is. There aren’t too many legends around. But he is a legend,” Trump said, describing how people who listened to Limbaugh on a daily basis were engaged in “a religious experience” while doing so.
The White House has so far maintained silence and President Joe Biden has not commented on Limbaugh’s passing. When Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether Biden would speak later on about Limbaugh during a press briefing at the White House Wednesday, she replied that she didn’t anticipate the president doing so.
Biden’s “condolences go out to the family and the friends of Rush Limbaugh, who have, of course, lost him today,” Psaki added.