How Rush Limbaugh went from college drop-out to 'doctor of democracy'

How Rush Limbaugh went from being a college drop-out to the controversial ‘doctor of democracy’ who had the ear of Republican Presidents, millions of die-hard radio fans and four marriages

  • Rush Limbaugh died on Wednesday after a 12-month battle with lung cancer, his wife Kathryn announced 
  • He started his radio career in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, his hometown where he got a job aged 16 at the local station that his father co-owned 
  • He bounced around local stations in the 70s and 80s before going national in New York in 1988 
  • Limbaugh, a prolific conservative with controversial views, was loathed in NYC so moved to Florida 
  • That is where he grew his radio show and public image to become a beloved Republican 
  • President Ronald Reagan wrote to him to call him the ‘voice of American conservatism’ in 1992 
  • President George W. Bush also considered him a friend and his relationship with President Donald J. Trump is well documented 
  • Limbugh married four times but had no children  

Rush Limbaugh in his senior year book from Central High School in Cape Girardeau, 1969 

Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio host who called himself the ‘doctor of democracy’, died on Wednesday morning after a 12-month battle with lung cancer and an extraordinary career that won him the affections of US presidents and millions of Americans. 

Limbaugh died at home in Palm Beach at the age of 70 on Wednesday morning. His fourth wife Kathryn announced the news of his death on his radio show to his loyal fans. 

It brought an end to a 50-year career in political radio where he became beloved by the right and scorned by the left for his brash approach and bold insults. 

Born Rush Hudson Limbaugh III in 1951, he grew up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. His father, Rush Limbaugh Sr., was a respected jurist and ambassador who had an exceptional legal career after serving in the Air Force during the Second World War. His mother Mildred, known to her friends as Millie, was on the committee of the local Women’s Republican Club and the Cape Girardeau Area ’99 Women’s Pilot organization.

Rusty, as the younger Limbaugh was known, was shy, with little interest in school but a passion for broadcasting. 

He would turn down the television during St. Louis Cardinals baseball games, offering play-by-play, and gave running commentary during the evening news. By high school, he had snagged a radio job.

‘One of the early reasons radio interested me was that I thought it would make me popular,’ he once wrote. 

He married four times but had no children. The younger Limbaugh got his first taste of radio at aged 16, at the local station, KGMO, which was co-owned by his father.

After graduating high school, he spent one year at Missouri State University before dropping out to focus all of his efforts into journalism. 

His first job was in 1971, as a DJ for WIXZ in Pennsylvania. He bounced around local stations, growing his profile at each one, before becoming Sacramento’s top radio host in the early 1980s. 

His rising star coincided with a series of political events in the 80s that bolstered his following among conservatives. Among them was the Reagan presidency. 

Limbaugh idolized Reagan and used much of his agenda to inform his listeners. Support for him swelled. In 1992, Reagan even wrote him a letter which Limbaugh proudly read on air.  Reagan wrote: ‘You’ve become the number one voice for conservatism.’ 

It wasn’t until 1988 that Limbaugh began broadcasting nationally, in New York. While his know-it-all commentary quickly gained traction, he was dismayed by his reception in the big city. He thought he would be welcomed by Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather. 

New York, N.Y.: Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh at his studio at WABC Radio in New York City on December 14, 1988 (left) He later moved the show to Florida, where he was most popular, and right, in the 1990s

‘I came to New York,’ he wrote, and I immediately became a nothing, a zero.’

Ultimately, Limbaugh moved his radio show to Palm Beach and bought his massive estate. Talkers Magazine, which covers the industry, said Limbaugh had the nation´s largest audience in 2019, with 15 million unique listeners each week.

‘When Rush wants to talk to America, all he has to do is grab his microphone. He attracts more listeners with just his voice than the rest of us could ever imagine,’ Beck wrote in Time magazine in 2009. 

‘He is simply on another level.’

Limbaugh expounded on his world view in the best-selling books ‘The Way Things Ought to Be’ and ‘See, I Told You So.’ His personal life was also unquiet. 

His first marriage was 1977 to Roxy Maxine McNeely, who he met while the pair worked at WHB, a radio station in Kansas City, Missouri. She was a sales secretary. 

In a 1993 interview with The Seattle Times, she recalled how it was simply ‘over one day’, a year into the marriage. 

‘We just sat down one day and decided our marriage was over. It was mutual, nothing ugly,’ she said.   

‘I don’t see him married with kids. He devotes so much time and energy to what he does that there’s nothing left for anyone else. Hindsight is always clearer, but I just don’t think he has the energy for a relationship. 

‘We were just getting started, two people that ended up together.

 Rush Limbaugh during his radio show in Florida after settling there. He continued his radio show with his signature gold mic until his death 

US President Donald Trump speaks to radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh (C), while Lee Greenwood performs “God Bless The USA”, at a Make America Great Again rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri on November 5, 2018

Limbugh married Michelle Sixta (left) in 1983, but they divorced in 1990.  He was married to third wife Marta (pictured together, right) between 1994 and 2004

‘Now, looking back, I think he was happier on his own. Relationships are hard for Rush. People are hard,’ she said. 

But he moved on with Michelle Sixta. The pair married in 1983. She was a student when they met and he had already started making a name for himself in Sacramento. 

The pair stayed together until 1988 when, after moving to New York together, they split and divorced in 1990.

Among the reasons given was that she was active and social, preferring being outside than at home, where Rush reveled in air conditioning in front of his computer.  

Rush didn’t marry again until 1994, when he married aerobics instructor Marta Fitzgerald. 

They were together until 2004. He didn’t marry again until 2010. That time, tying the knot with party planner Kathryn Adams who was more than 20 years his senior. Elton John performed at their wedding for $1million. 

He had a late-night TV show in the 1990s that got decent ratings but lackluster advertising because of his divisive message. When he guest-hosted ‘The Pat Sajak Show’ in 1990, audience members called him a Nazi and repeatedly shouted at him.

He was fired from a short-lived job as an NFL commentator on ESPN in 2003 after he said the media had made a star out of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb because it was ‘very desirous that a black quarterback do well.’ His racial remarks also derailed a 2009 bid to become one of the owners of the NFL´s St. Louis Rams.

Rush Limbaugh with his fourth wife, Kathryn Adams, at the Andrea Bocelli concert at The Mar-a-Lago Club on February 28, 2010 in Palm Beach, Florida.

‘Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and just think to yourself, “I am just full of hot gas?”‘ David Letterman asked him in 1993 on ‘The Late Show.’

‘I am a servant of humanity,’ Limbaugh replied. ‘I am in the relentless pursuit of the truth. I actually sit back and think that I’m just so fortunate to have this opportunity to tell people what’s really going on.

Limbaugh took as a badge of honor the title ‘most dangerous man in America.  He said he was the ‘truth detector,’ the ‘doctor of democracy,’ a ‘lover of mankind,’ a ‘harmless, lovable little fuzz ball’ and an ‘all-around good guy.’ He claimed he had ‘talent on loan from God.’

Long before Trump´s rise in politics, Limbaugh was pinning insulting names on his enemies and raging against the mainstream media, accusing it of feeding the public lies. He called Democrats and others on the left communists, wackos, feminazis, liberal extremists, faggots and radicals.

When actor Michael J. Fox, suffering from Parkinson´s disease, appeared in a Democratic campaign commercial, Limbaugh mocked his tremors. 

Radio personality Rush Limbaugh reacts as First Lady Melania Trump gives him the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 04, 2020 in Washington, DC

When a Washington advocate for the homeless killed himself, he cracked jokes. As the AIDS epidemic raged in the 1980s, he made the dying a punchline. He called 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton a dog.

He suggested that the Democrats´ stand on reproductive rights would have led to the abortion of Jesus Christ. 

Limbaugh died on Wednesday morning at the age of 70

When a woman accused Duke University lacrosse players of rape, he derided her as a ‘ho,’ and when a Georgetown University law student supported expanded contraceptive coverage, he dismissed her as a ‘slut.’ When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Limbaugh said flatly: ‘I hope he fails.’

He was frequently accused of bigotry and blatant racism for such antics as playing the song ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ on his show. The lyrics, set to the tune of ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon,’ describe Obama as someone who ‘makes guilty whites feel good’ and is ‘black, but not authentically.’

Limbaugh often enunciated the Republican platform better and more entertainingly than any party leader, becoming a GOP kingmaker whose endorsement and friendship were sought. Polls consistently found he was regarded as a voice of the party.

In 1994, Limbaugh was so widely credited with the first Republican takeover of Congress in 40 years that the GOP made him an honorary member of the new class.

During the 2016 presidential primaries, Limbaugh said he realized early on that Trump would be the nominee, and he likened the candidate´s deep connection with his supporters to his own. 

In a 2018 interview, he conceded Trump is rude but said that is because he is ‘fearless and willing to fight against the things that no Republican has been willing to fight against.’  

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