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Rush Limbaugh, longtime conservative radio host who called Palm Beach home, dies at 70

Palm Beach Post staff report
3/8/04, PALM CITY: Rush Linbaugh golfed Monday morning in the Gary Player Invitational at The Floridian Golf and Yacht Club.

Longtime conservative commentator and radio host Rush Limbaugh died Wednesday at his Palm Beach home, a little more than a year after revealing he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. He was 70.

The dominant voice in conservative broadcasting for decades, Limbaugh arguably paved the way for the rise of the Fox News Channel as well as the One America Network News. Along the way, Limbaugh became a political force in conservative politics as Republican candidates — including presidents — courted his support.

And he did it largely from a studio on Royal Palm Way.

"His honor, courage, strength, and loyalty will never be replaced," said former President Donald Trump, a Palm Beach neighbor who benefited from Limbaugh's political backing. "Rush was a patriot, a defender of Liberty, and someone who believed in all of the greatness our country stands for."

A ‘trendsetter’ in political media, Limbaugh rode polarizing views to big success

Limbaugh lived with his fourth wife, Kathryn Rogers, in a 2.65-acre oceanfront estate on the north end of Palm Beach that he bought through the RH Trust in 1996 for $3.9 million. The house has 21,487 square feet of living space, inside and out, and was appraised at a "total market value" of $57.59 million in the 2020 Palm Beach County tax rolls.

He began doing his radio show from his house but, with its tight municipal rules, the town frowned on running a national media empire from a residential address. Limbaugh later leased office space on the island and set up a radio studio.

Rudy Giuliani, Elton John were at Limbaugh's Palm Beach wedding

Flowers left at the front gate of Rush Limbaugh's Palm Beach home are collected Wednesday. Limbaugh died earlier in the day after a battle with cancer.

Limbaugh and Rogers married June 5, 2010, at The Breakers. About 400 people attended, including Karl Rove, Sean Hannity and fellow Palm Beacher Rudy Giuliani. Sir Elton John earned $1 million to provide the entertainment.

In 2012, Limbaugh and Rogers donated a 40-foot-tall holiday tree to Palm Beach for display on Worth Avenue, where it appeared for years. The year before, the couple gave the town $100,000 toward new holiday decorations.

Limbaugh, however, was not regularly seen in and about Palm Beach County.

He did appear at Trump's West Palm Beach-area club to play golf in February 2018 and then again in April 2019.

Limbaugh also appeared to have lunched with Trump at the golf club in December 2019. That took place right after the president had been impeached and two months before Trump awarded Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom during the 2020 State of the Union Address.

Rush Limbaugh receives the Medal of Freedom from first lady Melania Trump during President Trump's State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020.

>>RELATED: Limbaughs offer Palm Beach a bigger, better Christmas tree for Worth Avenue

Limbaugh also got into legal trouble in Palm Beach County. He was arrested in 2006 on prescription drug charges. That stemmed from reports three years earlier when a former housekeeper claimed she supplied the conservative commentator with thousands of doses of painkillers, some of which may have come from a mom-and-pop pill mill busted in 2003 in Lake Worth.

In a story in the National Enquirer, the housekeeper said many of the pain medication transactions took place at a Denny's restaurant parking on Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach.

Rush and Kathryn Rogers Limbaugh take shelter from the rain at St. John Boutique after the Worth Avenue Association's Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony Tuesday.

Limbaugh's health again surged to the forefront on Feb. 3 of last year when he stunned listeners of his radio show with the news that he was seriously ill with advanced lung cancer, a diagnosis he said had been confirmed by "two medical institutions" the previous month. 

"This day has been one of the most difficult days in recent memory for me," Limbaugh said that day. He added: "It's not that I want to fool anybody, it's just that I don't want to burden anybody with it and I haven't wanted to. But it is what it is. You know me, I'm the mayor of Realville."

A die-hard supporter of Trump to the end, Limbaugh was among Trump's proponents in his failed effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election with baseless claims of voting fraud.

Friend and former Palm Beach Town Council member David Rosow said while Limbaugh had "outlived all doctor's expectations — he had the strength and will to do it. He truly was a wonderful human being, and his death has left a huge hole in our hearts.

The White House released this photo of President Donald Trump with conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh and LPGA star Lexi Thompson at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on April 19, 2019.

"It's important to understand Rush was a gentle man who loved everyone, no matter what your affiliation was," he said. "He hated fanfare and attention. He just wanted to be one of the people having fun or playing golf."

Another friend, island resident Gay Hart Gaines, said: "Rush was the kindest, most genuinely generous man I have ever met. He gave me my first iPhone in 2007 and every one I have owned since ... He was deeply patriotic and the most sincere patriot I have ever known. He hugely influenced America for years and will be not only missed terribly, but is irreplaceable, period!"

Gaines called Limbaugh "a total original, a one-off."

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday lauded Limbaugh as the greatest of all time in conservative media.

"Rush is the GOAT — of radio, of conservative media and of inspiring a loyal army of American patriots," the governor wrote in a statement he issued on Twitter. "We don't know who will succeed Rush as America's anchorman, but we do know that nobody will ever replace him."

Michael Harrison, founder and publisher of Talkers trade magazine, which covers talk radio, said Limbaugh was controversial but also powerful.

“Limbaugh’s radio talent and dedication to the medium are unparalleled in the modern talk industry," Harrison told USA Today. "At a time when the very future of radio and its talent pool could very much be on the wane in terms of cultural relevance and prestige, he raised it to a level of importance on a par with the most influential media platforms and players of our time.” 

Journalist Ze'ev Chafets, who wrote a 2010 biography of Limbaugh, ranked him among the top five most influential Republican voters in the 1990s, a decade that saw the party begin its hard-right pivot. 

"The reason is his show was heard in every congressional district in the country, and certainly every state, by a huge number of Republicans who almost entirely made up his audience," Chafets said in an interview with USA Today. "He was able, at a granular level, to affect elections. The year Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House (1994), he gave Limbaugh an honorary membership in (the Republican caucus in) Congress because of his influence."

Limbaugh: From a Missouri family steeped in conservative politics

3/8/04, PALM CITY: Rush Limbaugh smiles for the cameras Monday during the Gary Player Invitational at The Floridian Golf and Yacht Club.

Limbaugh was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on Jan. 12, 1951. His family was deeply steeped in conservative politics, and relatives included lawyers, judges and ambassadors. Years later, he told listeners that as a child he knew his ambition was to be a radio star. 

When he was in elementary school, he received a toy radio as a gift. While in high school, he got a DJ job at a local radio station and then left college after a year to pursue a radio career.

That career included a number of controversies over statements that were caustic and toxic. Limbaugh strongly backed "birtherism," the unfounded claim that President Obama was not born in the United States, and called feminist public policy advocates "feminazis."

Limbaugh also crossed the line into blatant bigotry with other actions, including playing a song called “Barack the Magic Negro” that was a parody of "Puff, the Magic Dragon.” Limbaugh also mocked actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, after Fox was featured in a Democratic commercial.

After suggesting that university student Sandra Fluke was a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying in Congress in 2012 in support of insurance coverage for contraceptives, Limbaugh had to retreat and issue a rare apology.

"That was the most damaging thing he ever did," Harrison said. "It had a terrible economic impact on the talk radio business in general ... It's the one major blemish on his history that hurt his fellow broadcasters. Now he's been forgiven because of what he's done for the industry that outweighs that."

Reporting by Maria Puente of USA Today was used in this story.