My Friend Rush Limbaugh, RIP

A few weeks or so after Thanksgiving, I was sitting on my front porch with two friends. We were sharing some bourbon and cigars and my phone lit up with a message from Rush.

He and my wife have variants of the same type of lung cancer, though hers was caught very early and her treatment has thus far contained it. But Rush knew she had an older iPhone with touch-ID and he had been chiding me to upgrade her. He didn’t quite understand my wife’s resistance to technology and insisted I was neglecting my wife by failing to give her a state of the art phone.

Undeterred, he now wanted me to know he was sending her a new iPhone 12 Pro Max because he was convinced if it hadn’t already her chemo was going to screw up her finger prints and make unlocking her phone difficult. It already had been. My wife now has a better iPhone than me, thanks to Rush.

That is the sort of guy Rush was. In the midst of his own far more serious battle with cancer he was insistent my wife have a better phone.

I was not alone in benefiting from his generosity. He was generous with advice and with iPhones and God help you if you offered to buy lunch at a restaurant. You’d inevitably wind up aggrieving the wait staff who knew Rush was the best tipper in the restaurant. The Erickson household has several generations of iPhones that showed up thanks to Rush. We, at one point, would race each other to buy the phone and email to claim victory. Then he started letting other people order for him and it wasn’t a fair fight anymore.

Even as we sometimes disagreed on politics, we could have lengthy email chains about articles from Ars Technica or what Apple was doing.

Back in 2010, as Herman Cain ran for President, Cox Media Group offered me Herman Cain’s job. I was running RedState and also on CNN constantly. I really didn’t think I wanted to take on three daily hours of radio too. I had zero experience and wasn’t sure about the time.

Rush, ironically, had been the one to talk me into going to CNN instead of Fox. Sean Hannity got me a meeting at Fox, but Rush said I needed to beef up my missionary skills and going to CNN where everyone would be trying to kill me would help me and, besides, even CNN viewers needed to hear the truth.

I did it and now, a few years later, Rush insisted he’d never talk to me again if I didn’t get on the radio. So I did. A few years later he was telling Roger Ailes he should steal me from CNN for Fox.

A decade later, having filled in as a guest host for him along the way, I’m now doing five hours of radio — my own syndicated show and drive time radio in Atlanta on one of the most listened to talk stations in the country.

Much of my career I owe to Rush and his guidance.

When I uninvited Donald Trump from the RedState Gathering in 2015, Rush was one of the first to reach out and offer advice on how to navigate it on radio.

When he found out I was on the verge of death in a hospital a year later, he called me in the hospital — a rarity as we almost exclusively emailed each other due to his hearing. In fact, I think it was only the third time ever we talked on the phone.

Occasionally, he would send me notes admonishing me for something I had written and he was inevitably right. But it was never about positions I held. He only ever wanted to push me on how I might be perceiving others. Rush Limbaugh had incredible perception. I sometimes think he understood others better they understood themselves.

Contrary to the bombast of performance on radio, he was a quiet soul who loved football games and golf. I never got proficient enough to play a round with him.

When I was a teenager, making the obligatory visits to colleges with my dad, we stumbled on Rush’s program while driving through Alabama. My dad was searching for Paul Harvey. We developed a shared affection for Rush and even when we couldn’t talk about other things, we could talk about things Rush had said on air. I’d stay up late at night and watch Rush’s TV show, which Roger Ailes produced.

The day my parents finally stopped suggesting I should probably hold onto my law license was the day I filled in for Rush the first time. Years before, Rush had referred to me on air as “my friend Erick Erickson,” and it was the first time I could remember my dad calling me to say how proud he was — not that it was the first time but it was the memorable time because he just about ran off the road when he heard it and was out of breath when he called.

Partisans on the left will have their nasty takes and the newspapers that wrote obituary hagiographies of terrorists’ deaths will dance on his grave. But Rush Limbaugh was a very real friend and mentor. I very literally would not be doing what I’m doing but for him and the advice he has given me over the years is immeasurable and invaluable. His insight into the business of radio could have been turned into a textbook for business school generally.

When I plotted out a path to syndication, I bounced my ideas off him and he referred me to Kraig Kitchin, who helmed the EIB Network for Rush, having previously been the head of Premiere Networks. They paired me with my now agent, John McConnell. Rush loved the idea of what I wanted to do and I know he was proud of me because he told me so.

Rush Limbaugh pioneered a model of radio and a lot of us would not be doing what we are doing but for Rush. He created an industry that did not exist before him. All of us in this business know none of us will ever be as good as him.

Rush Limbaugh was the best and will perpetually be the gold standard by which everyone else in talk radio is measured.

There’s a public caricature of Rush Limbaugh that exists formed by those jealous of his success and contemptuous of his views. Then there is the Rush Limbaugh — a friend, a mentor, and now the man who gets to personally deliver back his talent to the God of all creator who, yes, Rush knew, loved, and served.

God speed, Rush Limbaugh, and welcome home.