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03.04.09

The Nine Lives of Rush Limbaugh

You’d think two major racial scandals, a loss of hearing, drug abuse, and being denounced on the Senate floor might have an adverse affect on a talk-show host’s career. Not so with Rush Limbaugh. Here’s a look at nine events that could have done him in—but only made him stronger.

You’d think two major racial scandals, a loss of hearing, drug abuse and being denounced on the Senate floor might have an adverse affect on a talk-show host’s career. Not so with Rush Limbaugh. Here’s a look at nine events that could have done him in—but only made him stronger.

HE FAILS, HE QUITS THE BUSINESS, IT DOESN'T MATTER

In this 1988 appearance on the Connecticut public-access show Miggs B on TV, Limbaugh recounts how his failure as a music DJ and quitting the business entirely made him better when he returned to the airwaves five years later.

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BEING HUMILIATED ON TV SHOW LEADS TO A TV SHOW

On March 30, 1990, Limbaugh was a guest host on The Pat Sajak Show. In this clip, he struggles to keep control as he’s repeatedly heckled by an activist from ACT UP. Two years later, he was hosting his own show, produced by Roger Ailes.

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HE CONFESSES TO DRUG ABUSE, HIS AUDIENCE DOESN’T CARE

Limbaugh was booked on a fraud charge related to obtaining prescription drugs in April 2006. Perhaps the secret to why his conservative audience shrugged it off is in this clip; note how he makes the villain in the affair not himself or even the prosecutor, but the Associated Press. (The state attorney later agreed to drop the charge.)

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HE MOCKS A BELOVED CELEBRITY FOR HIS DISABILITY

Limbaugh’s infamous mimicking of Michael J. Fox—who suffers from Parkinson’s disease—may have raised the ire of Mr. Fox, and, in the clip below, Keith Olbermann, but it has little impact on his career.

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HE’S A DEAF TALK-SHOW HOST. WHO CARES?

In this clip from Barbara Walters Presents: The Most Fascinating People of 2008, we learn that 1) Limbaugh lost his hearing until he received a cochlear implant, and 2) he is unapologetically smug about his wealth. But has the latter revelation sat poorly with his red-state, working-class listenership? Not at all.

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FOUR WORDS: BARACK THE MAGIC NEGRO

Don Imus apologized for a racially offensive remark and his career was almost mortally wounded. Limbaugh celebrates a racially offensive song for months and benefits from it.

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HE IS DENOUNCED ON THE FLOOR OF THE SENATE

Senator Tom Harkin thinks he’s scoring points in this October 2007 speech—“Maybe he was just high on his drugs again,” he says of Limbaugh’s comments about “phony” Iraq war veterans. But does anyone even remember this speech?

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FOUR LETTERS: ESPN

Limbaugh’s comments about race and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb may have cost him his ESPN job, but they certainly didn’t harm his radio audience. Here’s the transcript, taken from Limbaugh’s website, of his remarks:

RUSH: I've been listening to all of you guys, actually, and I think the sum total of what you're all saying is that Donovan McNabb is regressing, is going backwards —

TOM JACKSON: Mmm-hmm. (Nodding)

RUSH: —and my... I'm sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.

HE TAKES ON HIS OWN PARTY. HIS PARTY CAPITULATES.

Since when do the leaders of a 155-year-old political party rank second to a 58-year-old talk-show host? Since January 2009, to be specific, when Limbaugh was far ahead of his party in expressing the base’s frustration with President Obama.

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