I've listened to Rush Limbaugh's radio show for more than 20 years.
And I've always been amused that Rush's harshest (and of course, loudest) critics were people who knew absolutely nothing about him.
I can't tell you how many times I've had this conversation over the years.
SOMEONE: "Rush Limbaugh? Ugh. I hate that guy."
ME: "Have you ever listened to his show?"
SOMEONE: "Well, no. I would never listen to him. He's a horrible person."
ME: "How do you know what kind of person he is if you've never listened to him?"
That question always brought the same frustrated response.
SOMEONE: "Well, I've heard all about him."
Many of the people who had a negative opinion of Rush, never heard a word he had to say.
They didn't take the time to actually listen to his widely successful radio show, or read his best-selling books or even watch his television show.
They let their opinion of him be determined by others -- many of which had an agenda.
It's a lack of intellectual curiosity.
Plain and simple.
We are all guilty of it, I suppose.
It's easy to consume a quote taken out of context and posted on a website, or to watch a video clipped out of a bigger segment on Facebook or regurgitate some misleading information from a Twitter account.
It's comforting not to have to think for yourself.
Makes life more simple.
Ironically, Rush always encouraged his listeners to do the exact opposite. He wanted them to think for themselves.
That message got lost in the noise -- and inevitable controversy -- that often surrounded the larger-than-life Limbaugh.
His listeners embraced the term "Dittoheads," and often opened their calls with "Dittos, Rush."
Of course, critics found this as proof Rush was cultivating a cult of idiots who blindly followed him and acted on his every order -- or as Rush would say, "like mind-numbed robots."
Nothing was further for the truth.
Every day, Rush dug into his big stack of stuff with his "formerly nicotine-stained fingers" and took on deep, important issues.
Debate was indeed encouraged.
I never heard him hang up on a caller, ever -- even the most aggressive and confrontational.
But, if you never listened, you wouldn't know that.
Millions of people listened, though, for more than 32 years.
His show was informative, unbelievably funny and the perfect platform for Rush, well, to be Rush. The arrogance of the on-air persona he crafted was part of the appeal of the program -- and of course what drove his critics to the edge of insanity.
Limbaugh often touted he had "talent on loan from God," he had "half his brain tied behind his back, just to make it fair," and that he was "documented to be right 99.6% of the time."
Part of that was an act.
In real life, he was a kind, generous, self-made man who gave millions and millions of dollars to charity over the years.
He never bragged about his philanthropic efforts, though, and his detractors never gave him any credit for helping so many people.
Rush wasn't a perfect person.
Far from it.
His struggle with prescription painkillers is well documented and he had several failed marriages as well. And he said a few things during his radio career that even made me cringe a little bit.
He was not the monster, though, that some people have made him out to be.
Not shockingly, though, his death earlier this week brought out the worst in the people who knew nothing about him and never listened to his show.
Some of the comments on the Richmond Register's Facebook page on the passing of Limbaugh are too distasteful to share in this platform.
Go have a look for yourself, if you wish.
Those people can rejoice in Limbaugh's death if they want.
Even though he will never sit behind the Golden EIB Microphone again and his booming, brash voice won't fill the airways anymore, his legacy will live on -- and his fans, like me, will never forget him.
We knew Rush.
If you didn't take the time to listen to his show or to explore deeper than a few soundbites, then you didn't know him.
And that's a shame.