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THE NATION

Limbaugh Drug Addiction Alleged

Influential radio host is under investigation for buying thousands of pain pills, a tabloid reports. He says he is unaware of an inquiry.

October 03, 2003|John-Thor Dahlburg | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — One day after conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh resigned as an ESPN football analyst over controversial on-air comments, a weekly tabloid on Thursday reported that the national radio talk host was under investigation for allegedly buying addictive pain pills by the thousands on the black market.

In a statement released by Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates the popular "Rush Limbaugh Show," Limbaugh said he had no knowledge of the probe cited by the National Enquirer.

"I am unaware of any investigation by any authority involving me," Limbaugh, one of the best-known figures on America's airwaves, said. "No government representative has contacted me directly or indirectly. If my assistance is required, I will, of course, cooperate fully."

In this week's cover story, the Enquirer said that Limbaugh -- a resident of the exclusive seaside community of Palm Beach, Fla. -- had been battling narcotics addiction and was under investigation by the Palm Beach County state attorney's office for alleged involvement in a "drug ring." A prosecutor's spokesman reached by the Los Angeles Times refused comment.

"The office won't confirm or deny any active investigation or case we may have under review," spokesman Mike Edmondson said.

The New York Daily News said Thursday that it had independently confirmed the probe involving Limbaugh and reported that he had been turned in by his former housekeeper, who said she kept him supplied with pills for four years.

Wilma Cline reportedly told authorities that Limbaugh was hooked on the powerful prescription drugs OxyContin, Lorcet and hydrocodone; he had gone through detox twice, she said.

"There were times when I was worried," Cline was quoted as telling the Enquirer. "All these pills are powerful enough to kill an elephant, never mind a man."

Contacted by the Times, a Miami lawyer representing Cline and her husband said neither would have further comment.

"My clients stand behind the Enquirer story," attorney Ed Shohat said.

According to Cline's published account, she began illegally supplying pills to Limbaugh in 1998, nine months after going to work in his waterfront mansion. Initially, she said, the pills were painkillers prescribed for her husband, who had been hurt in a fall.

"To my astonishment, he [Limbaugh] said: "Can you spare a couple of them?" the Enquirer quoted Cline as saying.

When her husband's doctor stopped renewing the prescription, Cline told the tabloid, Limbaugh became furious. "He said: 'I don't care how or what you do, but you'd better ... get me some more." Cline said she found a new supplier.

At one point, Limbaugh reportedly told Cline he was going to New York for detox and wouldn't need any more pills. But a month later, according to the housekeeper, he said his left ear was hurting and asked for hydrocodone and OxyContin.

Limbaugh at the time suffered from a disease that eventually left him deaf; the condition was corrected two years ago when he had an electronic device surgically implanted in his skull.

Cline said Limbaugh told her that if word ever got out about his dependence on painkillers, "he would be ruined." She claimed in her published account that a lawyer for the radio star gave her a payoff -- $80,000 Limbaugh owed her after she left her job in July 2001, plus another $120,000 -- and asked her to destroy a computer that contained e-mails requesting new drug deliveries. Soon afterward, she and her husband retained Shohat and contacted prosecutors.

Late Wednesday, Limbaugh resigned from ESPN following a critical comment he made about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Limbaugh had said McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed. The remark, made during ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" show, touched off a firestorm of criticism.

On Thursday, Limbaugh, whose radio show is syndicated in more than 650 markets nationwide, said he resigned to protect employees of the sports network from any damage resulting from the controversy.

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