Rush Limbaugh: 40-year friend, gentleman, legend
I woke up this morning with an uneasy feeling. One of my Facebook friends posted an urgent note to pray for Rush Limbaugh. I replied that I pray for my friend of over 40 years each and every day.
As I always do, I turned on the radio at 9 a.m. for the beginning of his multi-award winning radio show – and to my shock, I heard (for the first time) the voice of his wife, Kathryn. I knew instantly what she was going to say. When she relayed the word that Rush had passed in the middle of the night, I burst out crying.
I passionately want to share some of the things I know about Rush and his amazing journey to the center of the radio world, where he will remain a giant in my life and the lives of millions of Americans.
I started noticing that Rush Limbaugh’s timing was off a bit during the summer of 2001 while I sat at a red light in downtown San Francisco, cussin’ up a storm over the potholes the liberal Democrats in local government wouldn’t fill, even though they found time to establish the city as a nuclear free zone. I turned up the dial in order to lower my blood pressure with my daily Rush fix.
As I began creeping down the Embarcadero, dodging the sinkholes and listening to the show, I heard a squeak coming from my radio. The talk titan was squeaking. As a trained broadcast professional, pitch and tonality are things I notice. Puzzled, I picked up my cellphone and called a few friends in the radio industry, asking if something was wrong with Limbaugh. There were rumors floating around that didn’t sound good. In fact, they were downright frightening for those of us who admire the man who changed the face and fortune of AM radio with a conservative talk format.
Oct. 8, 2001, Limbaugh himself confirmed what a few radio insiders were hearing – Rush was suffering from autoimmune inner-ear disease and was now almost completely deaf. The hearing in his right ear was completely gone, with only a bit of sound in his left ear.
Oct. 10, 2003, the tabloids splashed the news that Rush was addicted to painkillers, and then the world learned that he was going to rehab to deal with the addiction that began because of chronic pain in his back that even surgery could not alleviate.
That’s a whole lot of bad stuff happening in a relatively short time, and Rush must have felt besieged. Of course, the left-wing feeding frenzy began like a cheetah chasing a zebra across the Serengeti.
On Rush Limbaugh’s 20th anniversary, as a radio talk-show host debuting on the EIB (Excellence in Broadcasting) radio network, WND asked me to write a column honoring Rush. So it might seem fairly odd that I began this piece talking about the personal and professional setbacks El Rushbo has experienced in the past few years. But there is a purpose, a higher purpose. Hang with me for a minute.
I have known Rush Limbaugh since I was a teenager beginning in the radio business in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, where he and I worked at KUDL radio, a 10,000-watt AM and FM station located at the end of a dusty gravel driveway in the middle of a cornfield. That place was crazy weird. The news director would bring his gun to work, shooting out tower lights when he got mad at some equipment failure (frequently), and the FM program director was shooting smack when he got mad, glad, bored or listless (more frequently.)
But Rush Limbaugh was the perfect gentleman, very kind to me, and I never forgot that. There was some messiness and miscommunication in the middle years. But when he moved to Sacramento to begin his talk show at KFBK, I asked my boss at KGO in San Francisco to give him a listen. I thought he was really so different from anything that I had ever heard on the radio that I recommended him for a job as a talk-show host. He didn’t get the gig.
Clearly, my opinion didn’t matter for much, but that disappointment and others did not stop Rush Limbaugh. He used it to springboard onto the national scene.
Over the years, Rush has donated more than a million dollars to my charity organization Move America Forward, making him the largest donor in our history. When I pitched him on the idea of doing an internet show to raise money for care packages for our troops, he wrote me back “I want IN.”
He appeared on our show for 17 years, always with a smile of appreciation for our work.
When Rush started getting sicker, I wrote him more frequently about our shared memories. He wrote back that his memory was now “gray,” and he was having a hard time focusing. But he promised me he would write back a lengthier note soon.
Sadly, that letter never arrived.
His legacy will be defined now. Those who knew Rush and loved him must write his history, or his haters will define him. I am determined that should NOT happen.
I will never, ever forget the basic kindness and generosity of Rushton Hudson Limbaugh and all that he has done for America, and given humbly and without expectation.
God be with you, my friend.
You are already missed.