It was shocking to hear of the passing of one of my best friends. A person who could have been my twin brother, except that he was a giant among men. I recently turned 70, as did he, and I started out wanting to be a DJ, as did he. But that is about the end of the similarities. I thought of him as my alter ego, except that I knew I didn’t come close to measuring up. But we operated on a similar wavelength, and he gave me so much while I could only give him my admiration.
I started listening to Rush Limbaugh in 1985, as I was spending a great deal of time driving around California, working as a manufacturers sales representative, and his show burst out on Sacramento’s KPFK AM during mid-morning drivetime.
I must admit that at first I thought the guy was a pompous ass. But I kept listening because he was funny, and he had a way of talking about current events that reminded me of my college days. I always enjoyed a vigorous interactive discussion in a classroom atmosphere. I was bored by pop music, so I got hooked on talk radio, and Rush was not just a pioneer, but as I learned over time, a cultural and political genius, too. Limbaugh built his audience on, as he put it, “Explaining and illustrating the absurd using absurdity.” He referred to his program as “The Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies” and I was definitely a lifetime student.
Rush has been properly credited with the resuscitation of AM Radio. He took it from a failing Top Ten Record medium to a new Interactive Talk medium. He tapped into what is now passe, but at the time had no outlet: The need for people to share their passions, their frustrations, and their anxieties about life, community, national politics and current events. Limbaugh’s mostly “talking about what interested him” format was the radio forerunner to Twitter.
But the most fundamental reason Rush was the leader in the talk-radio market segment, is because he made absurdity make sense. And as confusing and contradictory as some of the news can be, he added a dose of humor to the equation. Just enough to diffuse the anger, but also to illustrate how convoluted so much of our public discourse has become.
Whether you agreed with his perspective or not, the man was highly entertaining. I could make the case that ironically, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, David Letterman, and so many others, who often professed utter disdain for him, owe much of their success to him.
In the late 90’s, Limbaugh formed an alliance with recording artist Paul Shanklin to produce a steady stream of musical parodies around high profile celebrities and political characters. Combined with Rush’s cartoonish and provocative nicknames for his favorite targets like “Dirty” Harry Reid or Debbie “Blabbermouth” Schultz, his voice imitations and his soap-opera-style replays of controversial news sound bites, Rush consistently set new standards for radio entertainment.
He received dozens of awards for his media work and leadership on conservative issues and many charitable causes. He is credited with raising over $20 million to support Leukemia research, law enforcement and victims of the 9/11 attack. Limbaugh also wrote or co-wrote 26 books. He was a New York Times bestseller and won the Author of the Year Award from the Children’s Book Council in 2013. He was an accomplished business entrepreneur, and used his radio forum to generate sales of iced tea, ties and t-shirts.
As he often said, he really did have “talent on loan from God.”
As the self-appointed ‘Mayor of Realville’, Rush spent a great deal of time mocking leaders in academia, entertainment and politics who constantly demonstrated little understanding of our Constitutional Republic and how it differs from a Democracy.
I have spent a major portion of my time on Earth enjoying the sojourn of Mahaj Rushie and I am grateful for every minute. He gave me a respite from boredom on the road, an education about human nature and the Game of Thrones that is Washington, and he painted mental pictures for me when major news events occurred.
He was, by far, the best professor I ever had.
Rick Elkin is an artist, author and public speaker. He is a 40 year resident of North County. You can follow him at RickElkin.com