Remarkably, Rush Limbaugh Helped Spur a Secretive Movement in Famously Liberal Hollywood

Hollywood has been largely silent on the passing of one of its own, Rush Limbaugh, who not only hosted his own radio show for three decades but also a TV show for four years. He also made countless appearances on shows hosted by the likes of David Letterman and Drew Carey and appeared in a movie with Billy Crystal and as a guest on Family Guy, among other activities.

But while the famously liberal entertainment industry mostly rejected Limbaugh and his conservative opinions while he was alive, there was an underground organization that not only celebrated him but also relied on his influence.

The private group known as Friends of Abe (FOA) was started by actors Gary Sinise, Patricia Heaton and Kelsey Grammer, along with filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd and the late conservative-media star Andrew Breitbart, in 2004.

In those early days, it was tough to get big-name speakers to take a secretive organization they'd never heard of too seriously. So Limbaugh helped grease the skids, occasionally going so far as to offer his private jet to get things moving, according to Hollywood insiders who spoke to Newsweek.

"Some of these conservative talking heads had even bigger egos than Hollywood celebrities," recalled Eric Matthews, a Hollywood money manager who ran FOA for Sinise back then.

Matthews said that Limbaugh would introduce him to the likes of Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and others. He added that his usual conduit was Stephen Limbaugh, the radio legend's nephew, who is a pianist and composer and was an FOA member before the group disbanded in 2016 after its existence was made public.

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Rush Limbaugh gestures after being awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Donald Trump during the State of the Union address on February 4, 2020. Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

While FOA attracted speakers like Ann Coulter and Mark Levin, it was Limbaugh's appearance at an FOA event about eight years ago that served as an announcement that the group, with zero publicity, had nevertheless become a major force. Thus, it became commonplace for the biggest voices in conservatism to show up at the group, including Donald Trump, who spoke at an FOA event in 2015 during his campaign for president.

Limbaugh's death after battling lung cancer was announced by his wife, Kathryn, near the top of her husband's radio show on Wednesday.

"His archives will be studied and played over and over. He's on the Mount Rushmore of radio. He may have passed, but his voice hasn't," actor Robert Davi said on Wednesday.

"There are some in Hollywood who will never open their ears to hear anything other than their own propaganda," said Davi, a former FOA member who played a heavy in The Goonies, License to Kill and other films.

"Rush was able to intellectually and emotionally convey conservatism so that, had liberals in Hollywood listened, their hearts and minds would have been changed. So they wouldn't allow themselves to listen," said Davi. "They brag about seeing both sides of issues, but I find many to be the most goose-stepping, locked-in thinkers, unfortunately."

Another former FOA member, Kevin Sorbo, star of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, said he first met Limbaugh at a golf tournament in 1998. "I introduced myself to Rush, and he said, 'Well, I know who you are, Kevin. You're Hercules, for crying out loud!'" Sorbo recalled.

"When I asked for a photo with him and told him I wasn't your typical Hollywood actor since I was a conservative, he said, 'Kevin, I knew that when you asked for a photo with me.' I got to bump into him many times as the years passed, and he was always a class act. Last time I saw him was when he spoke at the Reagan Library at an event hosted by Gary Sinise."

"We have lost one of the greatest fighters for the right to life," filmmaker Nick Loeb said. "Rush felt that abortion was not only wrong but the 'root of our cultural rot and decay.'

"We will truly miss one of the greatest conservative icons in American history," added Loeb, who is in postproduction on a film about the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

While only a select few in Hollywood were willing to praise Limbaugh after the news of his death, his far more numerous detractors in the industry appear to be lying low. An exception is George Takei of Star Trek fame, who tweeted: "I have never wished another person dead, and whew! He beat me to the punch before it ever got to that point."

In its obituary of Limbaugh, The Hollywood Reporter, a trade publication read by those in the film and TV industry, focused on the media star's divisive statements. Examples are when he accused actor Michael J. Fox of "deliberately exaggerating his Parkinson's disease"; when he said the NFL "all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons"; and when he called Kurt Cobain "a worthless shred of human debris."