The man who picked me up from the airport too many years ago to remember the date asked me if I had ever heard of a guy named Rush Limbaugh. When I said no, he turned on the car stereo and said: “Listen.” After 15 minutes, I was hooked.
Limbaugh, who died of lung cancer at the age of 70 on Wednesday, expressed my values. He didn’t tell people what or how to think, as his detractors have often accused him of, but reflected what many conservative Americans already believed. He often used humor and satire to make his points and he was so good that he attracted huge audiences. More than 600 radio stations broadcast its three-hour program.
He was loved by millions of people who had never met him. When I finally met him, I was surprised at his humility. Do not laugh. He was an artist as well as a commentator, and he understood that in order to get an audience’s attention, you had to do both. In person, he wasn’t the one you heard on the radio.
Several years ago, Rush invited me to dinner at his Florida home. He sheepishly asked if I drank wine, perhaps thinking because I am perceived as “religious” I should not. I answered, “I know someone who turned water into wine so, yeah, I’m going to have a drink.” He laughed and we were gone and were running as friends.
I once introduced Rush at a reception in Washington. I said, “Larry King is credited with saving AM radio, but Rush Limbaugh was worth listening to again.
As his wife Kathryn noted in the on-air announcement of his death, Rush was a generous man. He has raised millions of dollars for wounded soldiers, their widows and police officers who died in the line of duty. He often held radio-thons for leukemia research and donated unknown amounts of money to other causes.
When he married Kathryn in 2010, he created the suspense by suggesting, but never saying, who would be the special entertainment. After the ceremony, the guests proceeded to the hotel theater. A curtain adorned with question marks surrounded the stage. Rush announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, Elton John.”
In the midst of a 45-minute streak of his greatest hits, John stopped and said his Liberal friends asked him why he would play for Limbaugh, who many of them hated (though probably few of the listen, as was usually the case). He said something about the importance of friendships and invited Rush and Kathryn to London to visit him and his partner. I don’t think that happened, but it was a kind gesture.
Until the end, he expressed a positive and optimistic spirit. In recent weeks he’s been doing something I had never heard him do before. He spoke of his faith and mentioned that it was in Jesus Christ. Not only did this thrill other believers like me, but it brought a torrent of calls and messages to his show from people he had never met who said they prayed for him. On the air, he was clearly touched.
I never heard him complain about his illness. He always spoke of being blessed beyond any dreams of success he could have foreseen.
Life – and its radio location – will go on. Such things always do. But no one has the talent that Rush had – no one.
His loss is a loss for the conservative movement and for the country, but his ideas will continue, because as he liked to joke about himself, he was always “99.9% of reason.”
On its website is posted a tribute which includes these words: “The greatest of all time.” With my apologies to Muhammad Ali, this is an exact epitaph. Rest in peace, dear friend.
Readers can email Cal Thomas at tcaeditorstribpub.com. Find the latest book by Cal Thomas “America’s expiration date: the fall of empires and superpowers and the future of the United States” (HarperCollins / Zondervan).
Tribune 2021 Content Agency, LLC.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press.