Rushing to publish an unauthorized biography



Paul D. Colford

St. Martin's

230 pages. $19.95 Rush Limbaugh would be the last person you'd think of as a pot-smoker and a non-voter (at least for the first 12 years he was eligible).

And, as boisterous as he is on his nationally syndicated radio show, it's hard to imagine that he doesn't have much of a personal life.

Yet that's the picture in "The Rush Limbaugh Story," an unauthorized biography written by Newsday radio columnist Paul D. Colford.

Mr. Limbaugh, the liberal-bashing showman of radio and television (with a best-selling book, to boot) has become a multimillionaire since he hit the radio big time in 1988. Mr. Colford presents a broad-ranging account of how Mr. Limbaugh got where he is -- even though Mr. Limbaugh wouldn't talk with him.

The author deals pointedly with Mr. Limbaugh's pot-smoking and his Vietnam-era draft record, noting that such subjects were used against Bill Clinton on Mr. Limbaugh's show.

Mr. Limbaugh has said he smoked pot only twice and didn't like it. Someone who saw him doing it once says in the book: "He looked like he knew what he was doing."

Mr. Limbaugh was legitimately exempted from the Vietnam War draft because of a cyst at the base of the spinal cord, which Mr. Colford portrays as non-debilitating unless infected. But he says Mr. Limbaugh gave a "selective explanation" of the situation to the public.

Also, Mr. Limbaugh's father had the same condition but lied to get into World War II -- according to a newspaper quote attributed to his brother, David Limbaugh, and used by Mr. Colford in the book.

The use of that second-hand quotation from David Limbaugh (which had appeared in the New York Observer, a small weekly) is interesting, because Mr. Colford also interviewed David and thus could have included what the brother said to him on that specific point.

This may be a small matter, but it emphasizes what Mr. Colford's book is and isn't. It isn't the sort of exhaustive biography that historians write about political figures at the end of their careers or lives.

It is an instant biography, more like a very long newspaper or magazine article that offers as much information as can be gathered and documented in the allotted time, at a given moment. Sometimes you nail a story in every detail, and other times it's not quite all there.

Using interviews, documents, tape-recordings and published articles, Mr. Colford closely traces Rush H. Limbaugh III's rise from a repeatedly fired DJ (radio name: "Jeff Christie"). His political philosophy is rooted in a small-town Missouri upbringing; his father was a lawyer and Republican leader.

Mr. Colford recognizes Mr. Limbaugh as a unique talent and credits him with more good personal qualities -- sensitivity and loyalty among them -- than many recipients of his barbs (such as the so-called "feminazis") would be likely to.

On the other hand, Mr. Colford flogs at the "awkward-overweight-lonely-guy" theme to the point of psychoanalyzing Mr. Limbaugh from afar.

For example, Mr. Colford discusses a gossip-column item implying Mr. Limbaugh was a Casanova: He "who had been publicly rejected in a high-school game of spin-the-bottle, and divorced twice by women who found him wanting, must have drawn from the item a balm for those psychic wounds."

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