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Limbaugh Admits Painkiller Addiction

The talk-radio host, a favorite of conservatives, confirms that he is under investigation and tells his fans that he is seeking drug treatment.

October 11, 2003|John J. Goldman and Steve Carney | Special to The Times

NEW YORK — Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh told his millions of listeners Friday that he is addicted to prescription painkillers and will enter a treatment center "to once and for all" break the hold the medication has on him.

He also confirmed that authorities were conducting an investigation.

"You know I have always tried to be honest with you and open about my life," Limbaugh said. "So I need to tell you today that part of what you have heard and read is correct. I am addicted to prescription pain medication."

Limbaugh, whose conservative talk show is heard on 600 stations nationwide, said Friday that over the last five or six years he had tried to abandon his dependence on the pain pills, twice checking himself into medical facilities.

He said that he first started taking the pills when his doctor prescribed them several years ago after he underwent unsuccessful spinal surgery. He told his audience he was still in pain because of herniated discs.

"Rather than opt for additional surgery for these conditions, I chose to treat the pain with prescribed medication," said Limbaugh, 52. "This medication turned out to be highly addictive."

"I am not making any excuses," said the broadcaster, who has castigated liberals and championed conservative causes. "I am no role model," Limbaugh added.

"I am no victim and do not portray myself as such. I take full responsibility for my problem," he said.

Limbaugh said Friday he agreed with his physician, whom he did not identify, on the next step -- checking himself into a treatment center for 30 days. He did not name the center.

The Palm Beach County state attorney's office has refused to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation involving Limbaugh, who has an estate in Florida.

When reports that he was under scrutiny first appeared in the National Enquirer this month, the broadcaster issued a statement saying he was unaware of any inquiry involving him by authorities.

"No governmental representative has contacted me directly or indirectly," he wrote. "If my assistance is required in the future, I will, of course, cooperate fully."

On Friday, after confirming that an investigation was underway, he said that he had been asked to limit his public comments until it was complete.

"I will only say that the stories you have read and heard contain inaccuracies and distortions, which I will clear up when I am free to speak about them," he said.

The article in the National Enquirer contained an interview with Wilma Cline, who told the tabloid she became Limbaugh's drug connection while working as his maid. She charged that he had abused painkillers, including OxyContin.

Limbaugh received support Friday from his distributor, Premiere Radio Networks, which signed him to a reported nine-year, $285-million contract in 2001.

"Rush's health is our first priority," said Kraig T. Kitchin, the company's president, in a news release. "We are proud of his decision to seek treatment and join his 20 million listeners in looking forward to his return to the airwaves."

Limbaugh's program will continue with guest hosts.

On Oct. 1, Limbaugh resigned his side job as an analyst for ESPN's "NFL Sunday Countdown," three days after he told viewers that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had been overrated because the media wanted see a black quarterback succeed. The remark provoked outrage from the NAACP and several Democratic presidential candidates.

With a weekly audience of about 20 million -- the largest in radio -- Limbaugh's importance to the medium and his impact on politics have been enormous.

In the 15 years since he went from hosting a local show on Sacramento's KFBK-AM to being a national figure, Limbaugh has bedeviled the Clinton White House and congressional Democrats, and in 1994 then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich hailed him for his role as the cheerleader that led to a Republican majority in the House for the first time in 40 years.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in July coinciding with the 15th anniversary of his national syndication, Limbaugh acknowledged the obvious -- that he was a polarizing figure.

His popularity soared after the election of President Clinton, who quickly became the target of his sharp-tipped verbal arrows. But even before Clinton occupied the Oval Office, the broadcaster had a strong fan base -- including former President Bush, who invited him to sleep over at the White House.

Lately, Limbaugh's barbs have been largely directed at the Democratic presidential contenders. He remains a staunch defender of the administration's decision to invade Iraq.

Many observers credit Limbaugh with saving AM radio. With the loss of almost all music programming to cleaner-sounding FM stations, most AM owners were left with foreign-language programming or other niche offerings, and without much chance for a substantial audience.

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