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Limbaugh Promises to Reveal Details of Drug Investigation

The conservative radio host sidesteps specifics of the inquiry but urges listeners to trust him.

October 04, 2003|John-Thor Dahlburg | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Conservative talk-radio king Rush Limbaugh returned to America's airwaves Friday, shedding no light on the drug investigation involving him in Florida but asking his millions of proverbially loyal listeners to keep their faith in him.

"I don't want to respond to what's in the press," Limbaugh said on his nationally syndicated radio show. "I'm not going to even characterize it yet. Just trust me on this.

"When I find out all that this is," Limbaugh promised his audience, "then you are going to be among the first to know, from me."

Law enforcement officials in Palm Beach County, where Limbaugh resides, have confirmed they are investigating allegations from the broadcaster's former housekeeper that she illegally supplied him with thousands of prescription painkiller pills over a four-year period.

The allegations were first reported this week by the National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid.

Limbaugh's reputation was also left bruised by remarks that cost him his short-lived job as a TV football commentator. Last Sunday, Limbaugh claimed the media had been talking up Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb because they wanted a black quarterback in the National Football League to do well. Amid mounting criticism, including from some of the Democratic Party's presidential candidates, Limbaugh resigned from his ESPN analyst's job Wednesday.

"It's amazing to me that this is a controversy at all," Limbaugh said on his radio show. "Had what I said been said by anybody else -- [fellow conservative broadcaster] Sean Hannity could have said it, and it would not have been -- it wouldn't have even gotten noticed."

Since both controversies erupted, Limbaugh said he had received more than 30,000 e-mails and hundreds of telephone calls, and that the vast majority of the messages were "extremely supportive."

He said he had been moved and humbled that so many people were concerned for him and his family.

"We are like a giant family," Limbaugh told his radio audience. "Over the 15 years of this program, that's what we have become."

In a rambling, sometimes wistful monologue at the onset of his show, Limbaugh didn't address head-on the reports that he was involved in black-market purchases of powerful, potentially addictive prescription drugs, but promised to tell the truth later.

He seemed to imply that some of the revelations to come might be unpleasant.

"The story in Florida is -- it really is -- an emerging situation," Limbaugh said. "I really don't know the full scope of what I am dealing with. And when I get all the facts, when I get all the details of this, rest assured that I will discuss this with you and tell you how it is, tell you everything there is, maybe more than you want to know about this."

Limbaugh's remarks, which he made from studios in New York City, were his first to his customary public since he quit the ESPN job and reports surfaced of the drug investigation in Florida. On Thursday, he was replaced by a guest host on his radio show so he could address the National Assn. of Broadcasters in Philadelphia.

That day, Limbaugh said in a statement that he knew of no investigation involving him and had not been contacted by law enforcement officials. If authorities wanted to talk to him, he said, he would cooperate fully.

Broadcast three hours a day, five days a week on approximately 600 stations coast to coast, Limbaugh's program is by far the nation's top-rated radio talk show, according to Premiere Radio Networks of Sherman Oaks, which has syndicated the program since 2000. Limbaugh's estimated 20 million listeners often refer to themselves as "dittoheads" for their blanket agreement with Limbaugh's conservative politics and sharp witticisms skewering Democrats, liberals and various other political and ideological foes.

Premiere Radio spokeswoman Keven Bellows said she wasn't aware of any negative feedback so far from the client stations.

"You're dealing with the biggest talk show in the country, which is probably the No. 1 program in most places where it's on," Bellows said. "So all the stations have a vested interest in keeping this show. And they like Rush -- he's very popular."

So many members of Limbaugh's audience have e-mailed words of support that the radio program's Web site had to switch to a larger-capacity server, Bellows said. She said there had been only a few anti-Limbaugh messages, including e-mails to her company's parent, Clear Channel Communications, to "get that drug addict off the air."

Wilma Cline, the former housekeeper at Limbaugh's oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach, was quoted by the National Enquirer as saying she supplied Limbaugh with OxyContin, Lorcet and hydrocodone, powerful painkillers usually sold only with a doctor's prescription, between 1998 and 2002. In one seven-week period, she was quoted as saying, she gave Limbaugh more than 4,000 pills.

The official investigation involving Limbaugh appeared to be connected to the police raid this year on a Lake Worth, Fla., pharmacy that allegedly was illegally supplying customers with painkiller pills by the hundreds of thousands.

In 2001, hearing researchers reported that Vicodin and chemically similar painkillers were causing rapid hearing loss, even deafness, in some patients misusing the drug.

The same year, Limbaugh announced he had suffered a sudden and profound hearing loss. Doctors at the House Ear Clinic and Institute in Los Angeles, where Limbaugh was treated, said his condition was not related to painkillers, but was caused by a rare ailment known as autoimmune inner ear disease. Doctors implanted an electronic device in Limbaugh's skull that transmits sounds directly from the outside environment to his brain.

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