I deeply admire Rush Limbaugh. Not because of his conservative viewpoints, and not because he's a uniquely talented broadcaster who can make dropping a pencil interesting radio.
No. I have been most impressed over the years by Limbaugh’s strength of character, a crucial leadership attribute in woefully short supply at a time of failing institutions and callow public personalities.
Limbaugh also hasn't yielded to the emotional toll a terminal illness surely takes. He never complains publicly. He never feels sorry for himself. To the contrary, his persona—a mixture of faux hubris combined with a passion for conservative politics mediated by a great sense of humor—remains unchanged.
Indeed, if he hadn’t announced publicly that he's ill, I doubt the audience would be able to tell the difference.
The only change I have noticed after listening to Limbaugh regularly since the early '90s—and really, the only allusion he makes to the severe difficulties he is surely experiencing—has been a greater willingness to reveal his personal faith, something he rarely discussed previously.
Limbaugh says he believes in Jesus Christ and regularly tells his audience that upon awakening every morning, he thanks God that he's still breathing. Healthy or ill, such thankfulness is a practice we would all be wise to emulate because you never know what each day will bring.
In his great public aplomb, Limbaugh reminds me of the late actor Michael Landon’s valor in the face of his 1991 terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Landon was a hugely popular television star, having played “Little Joe” on "Bonanza," “Pa,” on "Little House on the Prairie," and an angel on "Highway to Heaven."
When he became ill, rather than stay behind closed doors, as was usually done back in the day, he publicly announced his diagnosis on the Tonight Show—unprecedented back then—and in so doing, helped shatter the cruel stigma often faced in those days by terminal cancer patients.
In his dying, Landon modeled what it means to face death with poise and composure. In that, he served humanity and undoubtedly helped others face their own impermanence.
Limbaugh is doing that too, which may even be more important now than it was in Landon’s time. By keeping on keeping on, the great broadcaster presents a vivid rebuttal to the usual nihilistic advice these days that committing assisted suicide is the best means to grapple with the suffering caused by terminal illness.
This isn’t the first time Limbaugh has stood strong against adversity in the harsh Klieg lights of public fame. When he became addicted to prescription opioids after a back injury, he not only faced down a politically motivated criminal investigation but overcame the habit—no easy task.
Then there was the time he went stone-cold deaf over a few months. I remember noticing that Limbaugh’s rich baritone had lost some of its timbre and that he slurred some words. I worried that he might have had a stroke. But he refused to yield to what would have been a career-ending affliction for most talk radio hosts by having listeners’ calls transcribed in real time. Eventually, he received a cochlear implant and carried on as if nothing untoward had happened.
Yes, I know that Limbaugh is a polarizing personality whose indifference to contemporary cultural sensibilities makes some people grind their teeth. I understand that people not on the starboard side of political belief may loathe him, or at the very least, can't comprehend why he has millions of devoted fans.
In that public service, regardless of our political beliefs, we owe Limbaugh a profound debt of gratitude. Here's praying that “El Rushbo” holds cancer at bay and continues with “excellence in broadcasting,” for many years to come.