Alone with his multitudes in his studio, he joked, ranted, twitted and burst into song, mimicry or boo-hoos as “The Rush Limbaugh Show” beamed out over 650 stations of the Premier Radio Networks, a subsidiary of iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel Communications). In his alternate-universe-on-the-air, he was “El Rushbo” and “America’s Anchorman,” in the “Southern Command” bunker of an “Excellence in Broadcasting” network.
To faithful “Dittoheads,” his defiantly self-mocking followers, he was an indomitable patriot, an icon of wit and wisdom — Mark Twain, Father Coughlin and the Founding Fathers rolled into one. His political clout, they said, lay in the reactions he provoked, avalanches of calls, emails and website rage, the headlines and occasional praise or wrath from the White House and Capitol Hill.
To detractors he was a sanctimonious charlatan, the most dangerous man in America, a label he co-opted. And some critics insisted he had no real political power, only an intimidating, self-aggrandizing presence that swayed an aging, ultra-right fringe whose numbers, while impressive, were not considered great enough to affect the outcome of national elections.
In any case, he was a commercial phenomenon, taking in $85 million a year. Married four times and divorced three times with no children, he lived on an oceanfront estate in a 24,000-square-foot mansion. It featured Oriental carpets, chandeliers and a two-story mahogany-paneled library with leather-bound collections. He had a half-dozen cars, one costing $450,000, and a $54 million Gulfstream G550 jet.
Dropping $5,000 tips in restaurants, affecting the grandiloquence of a proud college dropout, he was himself easily caricatured: overweight all his life, sometimes topping 300 pounds, a cigar-smoker with an impish grin and sly eyes, the stringy hair slicked back from a mastodon forehead. He moved his bulk with surprising grace when showing how an environmentalist skips daintily in a woodland. But his voice was his brass ring — a jaunty, rapid staccato, breaking into squeaky dolphin-talk or falsetto sobbing to expose the do-gooders, dazzling America with his inventive, bruising vocabulary.
A full obituary will appear soon.