Ronald Reagan once sent him a personal letter and William F. Buckley considered him a friend. But when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called Rush Limbaugh "the voice and the intellectual force" of the Republican Party, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele responded that the AM radio host was nothing more than a "divisive" and "ugly" entertainer.
Yet few test Rush Limbaugh and emerge unscathed. After Limbaugh took the RNC Chairman to task in front of his 20 million or so listeners, Steele retracted his remarks, saying, "There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership." So who is this conservative leader (or non-leader), how tightly does he have Republicans wrapped around his finger, and how many five-hour energy drinks did he consume to achieve his enormous decade-spanning staying power? (Read TIME's 1995 cover story about Rush Limbaugh.)
Born Rush Hudson Limbaugh III on Jan. 12, 1951 in Cape Giradeau, Missouri, which now runs a Rush Limbaugh tour for visitors.
Has been married three times, the last one officiated by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. No kids. One cat.
Smokes cigars. Uses email extensively.
Got poor grades in school. Was in the Boy Scouts but never got a single merit badge.
Got into radio at age 16, when his father lent him money for a summer course in radio engineering. Then he got a broadcaster's license, a job at a local radio station, and his own radio show. Limbaugh went to Southern Missouri State for a year before dropping out to pursue his career.
Started out in Pittsburgh, where he became a Top 40 music DJ and went by the name Jeff Christie. He turned political in Sacramento, Calif. by creating a politically incorrect persona called El Rushbo, then moved to New York and went national on WABC.
Now broadcasts out of a Palm Beach, Fla. studio he has nicknamed "The Southern Command."
Has been on the radio for over 20 years and his nationally syndicated program, The Rush Limbaugh Show, now boasts a weekly audience of over 20 million. In 2008, he signed a $400 million deal with Clear Channel and Premiere Radio extending the show through 2016.
Devout followers refer to themselves as Dittoheads. The term comes from a long ago request that callers refrain from gushing praise and just say "Ditto" instead.
Used to terminate bad call-ins with "The Caller Abortion" the sound of a vacuum cleaner and a woman's scream.
Has five houses on one piece of Florida property. His main house is 24,000 sq. feet and has a guest suite designed to look exactly like the presidential suite in the George V Hotel in Paris.
Wrote a list of "35 Undeniable Truths" in 1988 that included statements such as "Abortion is wrong," "There is a God" and "The greatest football team in the history of civilization is the Pittsburgh Steelers of 1975-1980."
Re-wrote the list in 1994, stated that all previous truths were still true, and added statements such as "I am not arrogant" and "Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud."
Joined ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown in 2003 but resigned from his position after making a controversial statement that the media only liked Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb because he was black. (Read TIME's 2003 article about his resignation.)
In 2003, he imitated Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's symptoms on air and wondered aloud if Fox had exaggerated them for political gain following Fox's endorsement of a Democratic candidate.
Slowly lost his hearing in 2000. Did his show completely deaf for two months before getting cochlear implants to help him hear callers. He can also read lips.
The last song he remembers hearing before going deaf was a Luther Vandross tune.
In 2006, after years of pain killer addiction, Limbaugh was charged with "doctor shopping" for prescriptions. He plead not guilty but agreed to go through rehab if the charges were dismissed.
In 2008, he said his ideal political platform would include: a 17% flat tax; private social security; arctic drilling; revoking Jimmy Carter's passport.
Called John McCain a phony conservative during the 2008 Presidential campaign and promoted "Operation Chaos," in which Republicans would register as Democrats and vote for Hillary Clinton the primaries to prolong the Clinton-Obama infighting among liberals. (Read TIME's 2008 Q&A with Limbaugh about his feelings on John McCain)
Referred to now-President Obama as "Barack the Magic Negro" and played a song by the same name to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon." As an explanation, Limbaugh said that that the term was historical.
Quotes by Rush Limbaugh:
"Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society."
The Rush Limbaugh Show, August 12, 2005
"Condoms only work during the school year."
item number 12 on the 1994 list of 35 Undeniable Truths
"It's like the Super Bowl. If your team isn't in it, you root for the team you hate less. That's McCain."
on his dislike for John McCain, The New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2008
"Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."
on Michael J Fox's Parkinson's symptoms, The Rush Limbaugh Show, Oct. 23, 2006
"Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?"
while holding up a photograph of 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton on his 1993 television show, Rush Limbaugh
"I thank God for my addiction. It made me understand my shortcomings."
on his prescription drug scandal. The New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2008
"The man is Ted Baxter."
describing Bill O'Reilly as the buffoonish character on The Mary Tyler Moore show. The New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2008
"I hope he fails."
on his hope for Barack Obama's presidency. The Rush Limbaugh Show, Jan. 16, 2009
"Take that bone out of your nose and call me back."
to an African American caller, while hosting a Top 40 music program under the name Jeff Christie in the 1970s
"They're out there protesting what they actually wish would happen to them sometimes."
on women who protest against sexual harassment. The Rush Limbaugh Show, April 26, 2004
"It was like being summoned to as close to God on earth as you can get."
on being invited to William F. Buckley's apartment for the first time. The Rush Limbaugh Show, Feb. 27, 2008
Quotes about Rush Limbaugh:
"He helped set the agenda."
Karl Rove, about Limbaugh's influence on the 1994 Republican Congressional landslide and the "Contract with America." The New York Times Magazine July 6, 2008
"Dear Rush, Thanks for all you're doing to promote Republican and conservative principles...Sincerely, Ron"
A letter from former President Ronald Reagan, reprinted in The National Review, Sept. 6, 1993
"He's a phenomenon like the Beatles."
Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of Talkers magazine. The New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2008
"I had a great time in the Dominican Republic. Wish I could tell you about it."
after Palm Beach International Airport authorities caught him with a bottle of Viagra with a prescription that was not in his name. The Rush Limbaugh Show, reprinted on CBSNews.com, Jun. 27, 2006
"I used to listen to him in the car...I'd notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him."
NPR's Ira Glass, The New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2008
"Rush Limbaugh was singled out for prosecution because of who he is. We believe the state attorney's office is applying a double standard."
Roy Black, Limbaugh's attorney during the prescription drug scandal, to the Associated Press, Jan. 4, 2004
"He's smart, he's tough, and he isn't going away, much to the annoyance of the liberal crowd."
Bob Dole, The National Review, Sept. 6, 1993
"I think Rush is a great leader for conservatives. I think he articulates what a lot of people are concerned about."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Larry King Live, Mar. 2, 2009