Kathryn Limbaugh spoke to listeners of The Rush Limbaugh Show for two hours on Monday, days after the loved and loathed radio star died of cancer

By Diane Herbst
February 23, 2021 10:55 AM
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As conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was dying from cancer earlier this month, his wife, Kathryn Limbaugh, provided comfort through their favorite tune: Elton John's "Your Song."

"I played that for Rush in his final days," she said Monday during a two-hour guest slot on her husband's show, her first extensive public comments since he died last Wednesday. "And he was able to listen to that song and we remembered our wedding and Elton John."

Kathryn shared details of how John came to play at their 2010 wedding — a familiar story to longtime listeners — and how she met Rush: Kathryn said she originally considered him a C-list celebrity and had little interest in the often vile-sounding talk-radio star who had a string of controversies and legions of critics.

But she saw a different side of him in person, she said.

Elsewhere on Monday's show, Kathryn announced there will be a virtual memorial in the coming weeks for Rush, who died of complications from lung cancer.

Kathryn and Rush Limbaugh
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

"It has been a very difficult time," she said.

"Rush was an incredible creature of habit ... He never stopped working, from the moment that he got home after the show he may give himself maybe 15 minutes or an hour of rest time, and he was back at it," Kathryn said.

She was the one who announced Rush's death last week, telling listeners on his show that her "wonderful husband" was "larger than life."

Returning this week, Kathryn shared that prior to meeting him in the early 2000s, she was not a Rush fan. At the time, she was running a foundation South African golfer Gary Player and organizing a celebrity golf tournament; Rush was brought up as a possible A-lister. 

"Believe it or not, I put him down on maybe B or C [list], just based on what I thought I knew of him," she said on the show.

By then, Rush was one of the most popular and most divisive right-wing personalities in the country — both adored and widely loathed.

A pioneering say-anything radio host, he made numerous inflammatory comments over the years: mocking former President Barack Obama as "Barack the Magic Negro"; relishing the deaths of AIDS victims; and savaging women's activism, including calling a college student advocating for contraception a "slut."

Over the years, he also apologized for some of these remarks but steadfastly stood by others, and his audience remained loyal to his point of view on the issues of the day.

Rewind back to that celebrity golf tournament and Kathryn decided to invite Rush. "I thought, I've heard a lot about him, but I will give it a shot anyway," she said Monday. "He walked in, he was extraordinarily humble and kind, and I thought to myself — this isn't quite the person that I thought was going to be arriving."

"And from that moment on," she continued, "I knew that everything that you read and hear is not necessarily accurate. Rush and I became friends, for many years, before we actually got married. But we were very, very close from the early, early days of that meeting."

Like friends of theirs in Palm Beach, Florida, Kathryn insisted that Rush was different off the air.

"That's something that was not really highly told over the years, or really publicized or written about, but it certainly should be part of his legacy: He's one of the most generous people and celebrities that you could ever find," she said.

Kathryn, Rush's fourth wife, also told listeners how the pair came up with the idea of inviting Elton John to sing at their 2010 wedding in Palm Beach, when the couple was staying a floor below the singer at the same hotel in Hawaii a year prior to the nuptials. 

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From left: Elton John and Kathryn and Rush Limbaugh
| Credit: Tommaso Boddi/Getty; Lucien Capehart/Getty

"Rush and I were on the deck and we said to each other, 'How about we invite Elton John to perform at our wedding?' " she recalled. "So that is exactly what we did."

"We thought at first it was a bit funny and perhaps it wouldn't happen, but I wrote a letter to Elton John and told him how much we loved and adored him and respected his music and his career and asked if he might be available to headline at our wedding," she said. 

"And one thing led to another and, sure enough, he accepted very graciously and he was there and he was absolutely wonderful," Kathryn continued. "Rush and Sir Elton John kept in touch as we did, and they spoke outside of the wedding and it was a wonderful friendship. I would say there were actually quite a few similarities that might not come across on the surface."

At the time, John's husband, David Furnish, told PEOPLE, "When he got the invitation, he was 'a little surprised.' And then, when it turned out to be a genuinely sincere invitation Elton said, 'Life is about building bridges, not walls.' "

Furnish remembered John, 73, saying, "Maybe if I can make a great impression, people might change their perspectives on life."

John wanted to "go where people wouldn't expect me to go," Furnish told PEOPLE not long after the Limbaugh wedding.

Kathryn, who is 26 years Rush's junior, lived luxuriously with him at a gated Palm Beach, Florida, estate comprised of five houses.

"One of our favorite trips was we went to Monaco for one of our anniversaries, and that was something that Rush wanted to do and I wanted to do," Kathryn said Monday. "And I would say that was one of the most special trips that we had, because he was able to be somewhat normal and not as well recognized there."

Listeners urged her to continue guest hosting the show, which had about 15.5 million weekly listeners prior to Rush's death. Kathryn said she plans to continue some of Rush's work, such as expanding his children's book series.

His radio company has said that, for the time being, Rush's show will be guest hosted and heavily feature archived clips of him as a transition "until his audience is prepared to say good-bye."

They were still grieving Monday: remembering not the man who once compared 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton to a dog but a figure who, they said, talked like they felt.

For some, Kathryn was a connection to a figure that as caller Dan from Nevada said through tears: "His words changed our lives .... I didn't know him, but I felt him every time he spoke."

Said another caller, a woman named Zoe: "I didn't realize the grief I would feel, and to know the show is going to go on is such a comfort, knowing it will still be there is helping me to hold on."

Kathryn told her: "I am so sorry for everyone's loss, including mine."