It was news that talk radio devotees, among whom I long have counted myself, had been anticipating—make that dreading—for months. But when the news broke Wednesday shortly after noon EST, that didn’t make it any less hurtful.
When a Limbaugh came on the radio at the usual time, and it was not Rush but instead his wife, Kathryn, it was painfully obvious what she was going to say. Namely, that the nationally syndicated, conservative talk show titan had lost his battle with stage 4 lung cancer at the age of 70.
Limbaugh had announced the cancer diagnosis to his millions of listeners just over a year ago, on Feb. 3, 2020. He had continued to host his three-hour program weekdays to the extent that his declining health and the medical treatments permitted, with a variety of guest hosts filling in as needed.
Rush’s last on-air appearance was Feb. 2. Kathryn served as the final guest host Wednesday, so to speak, albeit just for 10 minutes, preceding a “best of” compilation.
“I know that I am most certainly not the Limbaugh that you tuned in to listen to today. I, like you, very much wish Rush was behind this golden microphone right now,” Kathryn began, adding: “It is with profound sadness I must share with you directly that our beloved Rush … passed away this morning due to complications from lung cancer.”
She continued in a somber monologue:
On behalf of the Limbaugh family, I would personally like to thank each and every one of you who prayed for Rush and inspired him to keep going. You rallied around Rush and lifted him up when he needed you the most.
To thank Limbaugh for the thousands of hours of his unique blend of information and entertainment over the past 30-plus years, I had “rallied around Rush” late last year in the only way I could think of.
Having lost both parents and a sister to cancer after the traditional oncology regimen of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (which some of us deride as “cut, burn, and poison”) failed them, I sent Limbaugh an email urging him to seek out alternative, holistic medical treatment on the premise of “What do you have to lose?”
I provided contact information for a nationally known complementary medicine practitioner in Palm Beach, Florida, his own backyard.
Whether he ever reached out to that doctor’s clinic, I have no way or knowing. But I do know that he read my email, because a few weeks later, I unexpectedly received what amounted to a thank-you gift package on my doorstep from Limbaugh himself.
In it were an oversized coffee mug with Limbaugh’s signature on one side and an illustration of the U.S. flag over the words “Preserve America” on the other; two note pads; a full-sized American flag; and a mirror-framed photo of Limbaugh giving a thumbs-up during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020, where he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Although ultimately unsuccessful, my Rx to Rush was the least I could do as a fan who had listened to his show almost since its inception in 1988. I was working at the time at a radio station in Manchester, New Hampshire, which carried the program.
A couple of years later, when I got a job as a copy editor at the Portsmouth Herald newspaper, also in New Hampshire, I would have lunch in my car just to listen to his show.
I suppose that qualifies me as a “Dittohead,” the nickname Rush coined for his listeners. His liberal critics never understood Limbaugh’s appeal, disparagingly suggesting that his conservative listeners were taking their political marching orders from him.
But that was the exact opposite of the truth: In a media world dominated by liberals, Limbaugh gave rare voice to what we already believed about individual liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government.
He delivered it all with an irreverent humor—and with what he jokingly called “talent on loan from God”—that will be difficult to replace.
“From today on, there will be a tremendous void in our lives and, of course, on the radio,” Kathryn Limbaugh said on the air.
That’s a fact. Two other things are also undeniable: One is that Limbaugh and talk radio saved the AM dial from oblivion at a time when music was moving wholesale to FM. The other is that for all their criticism of talk radio, liberals always have been envious because it was the one information medium they don’t dominate; they sought unsuccessfully to find liberal hosts who could match Rush’s appeal.
For talk radio devotees, Rush Limbaugh’s death is like losing a member of the family—and no doubt our response resembles how longtime fans of “Jeopardy!” mourned the recent loss of Alex Trebek, who hosted the beloved game show for even longer than Rush was on national radio.
Limbaugh’s oversized shoes will be hard to fill. However, the 600-plus radio stations of his EIB (Excellence in Broadcasting) Network will need a permanent replacement host for those three hours a day, five days a week.
Succession plans presumably were discussed when it was becoming clear that Limbaugh’s cancer was incurable, but if so, the plans have yet to be announced. Plenty of potential heirs could vie for the noon-to-3 p.m. EST throne of talk radio, because Limbaugh spawned an entire generation of conservative talk radio hosts with local programs across the country.
As former Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday: “There was only one Rush Limbaugh.” However, my nominee as his replacement would be Chris Plante, who hosts the 9 a.m.-to-noon show preceding Rush on affiliate WMAL-FM in Washington, D.C., and who shares Rush’s biting wit, pop culture savvy, and irreverent sense of humor.
As for that talent on loan from God? On Wednesday, that loan was paid back in full.
Godspeed, Rush Limbaugh.
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