Rush Limbaugh earned more than $84 million per year as the host of his famous talk radio show, with more than 15 million listeners each week. He was widely known for leading the conservative movement in the United States and was rewarded with induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on February 4, 2020, shortly after he announced to his radio audience that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
He had a terribly unhealthful lifestyle punctuated by heavy smoking and drinking, not exercising, obesity and yoyo dieting, alternating between eating lots of red meat and high sugar foods and then switching to a diet that restricted meat and sugar. He suffered from heart problems and probably type II diabetes, and died from lung cancer on February 17, 2021.
A Life in Radio
Limbaugh was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 1951. His father was a lawyer who had served as a fighter pilot in World War II. At age 16, Limbaugh worked on a local radio station KGMO, and in 1971, at age 20, he became a DJ on WIXZ in McKeesport, Pennsylvania but was fired after 18 months for arguing with the program director. He moved to KQV in Pittsburgh and was fired again. In 1975, at age 24, he moved to KUDL in Kansas City, Missouri but was fired two years later. He found work at KFIX and was fired within a couple of weeks. At age 32, he found a job at KMBZ-AM in Kansas City but was fired again. He moved to Sacramento, California in 1984 and became successful for the first time on radio station KFBK.
Four years later, at age 37, he was hired by WABC-AM in New York City and became so wildly popular that he ended up being syndicated on more than 650 radio stations for the next three decades. By demonstrating the huge market for conservative content, he paved the way for many other conservative broadcasters. His show often had the largest audience of any radio show of the year, and in earnings he was second only to Howard Stern. His audience was so enthusiastic that he could say whatever he wanted and keep on broadcasting, even when he was very sick in his final months before dying from lung cancer.
Limbaugh married four times, divorced three times and had no children.
• At age 26, he married Roxy Maxine McNeely, a sales secretary at radio station WHB in Kansas City, Missouri. She filed for divorce three years later.
• At age 32, he married Michelle Sixta, a college student and usherette at the Kansas City Royals Stadium Club, and they divorced 7 years later.
• At age 43, he married Marta Fitzgerald, a 35-year-old aerobics instructor. They were married at U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s house and divorced 10 years later.
• At age 53, he dated CNN news anchor Daryn Kagan and they separated two years later.
• At age 56 he started dating Kathryn Rogers, a party planner from Florida, and they married three years later
with a wedding reception hosted by Elton John.
His Medical Problems
Limbaugh broke many rules for healthful living, with heavy cigarette smoking that he treated by switching to cigars, and obesity that he treated with repeatedly losing and regaining weight.
• In 2001, he announced that he had become totally deaf in just three months and that doctors restored some of his hearing through cochlear implant surgery.
• In October 3, 2003, he was suspected of illegally obtaining the prescription drugs, oxycodone and hydrocodone, and told his listeners that he had an addiction to painkillers from suffering severe back pain for many years. As surgery failed to treat his back pain, he started inpatient treatment for his addiction.
• In 2005, he had surgery for an “eye twitch,” possibly caused by his cochlear implant.
• On April 28, 2006, a warrant was issued for his arrest on the charge that he received 2000 painkillers prescribed by four doctors in six months from a pharmacy in Palm Beach.
• In June 2006, he was detained at Palm Beach International Airport for importing Viagra from the Dominican Republic with a prescription that was in another person’s name.
• In 2009, he went on a diet that helped him lose more than 90 pounds, which was followed by emergency hospitalization for severe chest pain. He was told that he did not have a heart attack because he did not have completely blocked arteries leading to his heart. However, yoyo diets are strongly associated with heart disease and some of the reports said he had heart pain called angina pectoris.
• On December 30, 2009, he was admitted to a hospital in Hawaii with severe chest pains and was again diagnosed as having angina pectoris, heart pains from blocked arteries leading to his heart.
• On April 8, 2014, he announced on his radio program that he had had a hearing implant for his right side.
• On January 20, 2020, he became severely short of breath and found out that he had advanced lung cancer.
• On October 20, 2020, Limbaugh announced on his show that treatment had failed and that he expected to die.
• On February 17, 2021, he died of that disease at the age of 70.
Lung Cancer Risk Factors and Prognosis
The five-year survival rate for all patients with any type of lung cancer is 19 percent, and it is only six percent for those who have the rarer small cell lung cancer. About 70 percent of patients diagnosed with small cell lung cancer have cancer that has already spread at the time of diagnosis. I have no information on whether Limbaugh had small cell lung cancer (SCLC) or non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), but we do know that his cancer was already widespread when he was diagnosed (stage 4), so his prognosis was very poor.
• Any form of tobacco use or smoking increases cancer risk: cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, or cannabis. Limbaugh had said that he started smoking as a teenager, and he later switched from cigarettes to cigars.
• Other risk factors include radon, a natural radioactive gas from tiny amounts of uranium present in all rocks and soils that can seep into houses and other buildings; and occupational or environmental exposure to substances such as arsenic, asbestos, beryllium, cadmium, coal and coke fumes, silica, nickel or diesel fumes.
More than 70 percent of lung cancers are caused by smoking, living with a smoker, or living in a house where a smoker used to live. People who smoke even for one year and then give it up completely will still be at increased risk for lung cancer and other cancers throughout their bodies for the rest of their lives. The increased risk for heart attacks caused by smoking drops substantially after stopping smoking for three years, and disappears completely after 10 years.
January 12, 1951 – February 17, 2021