But as the millennium turned, Mr. Limbaugh faced problems that threatened his empire. In 2001 he acknowledged that he had become almost deaf — resulting, he said, from an autoimmune disease. He continued his show, using powerful hearing aids, but they were not enough. He eventually resolved his problem with cochlear implants, which provided an electronic sense of sound. And he learned to read lips.
After years of addiction to painkillers, he was charged in Florida in 2006 with “doctor shopping” for prescriptions. He pleaded not guilty but paid the costs of a state investigation and entered rehabilitative therapy. He checked into an Arizona rehab center catering to celebrities and returned to the air after six weeks, telling listeners candidly of his addiction, treatment and legal status.
By 2008 Mr. Limbaugh was back on top for the national elections. He mounted Operation Chaos, urging his followers to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries to prolong Democratic infighting, and in the belief that Senator John McCain could more easily defeat Mr. Obama in the general election. He was wrong about that, but claimed credit for disrupting the Democrats.
Rush Hudson Limbaugh III was born on Jan. 12, 1951, in Cape Girardeau, Mo., the older of two sons of Rush Jr. and Mildred (Armstrong) Limbaugh. His father was a World War II fighter pilot, a lawyer and Republican activist. His grandfather was President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s ambassador to India. An uncle and a cousin became federal judges.
As a boy Rush was a loner who disliked school and longed in vain for popularity. He liked radio and made up play-by-play baseball broadcasts. During the rebellious 1960s, he never dated. At 16, he took a summer course in radio engineering and, with a broadcaster’s license, got an after-school disc jockey job at a local radio station.
After graduating from Cape Central High School in 1969, he enrolled at his parents’ insistence at Southeast Missouri State University but flunked most of his courses, including speech and dance, and dropped out after two semesters.
In 1971, he became a disc jockey for WIXZ-AM in McKeesport, Pa., and in 1973 for KQV in Pittsburgh, using the name Jeff Christie. Over several years he worked at music stations before settling in Kansas City, Mo., where in 1979 he became director of promotions for the Kansas City Royals baseball team.