Rush Limbaugh, a dominant force in US conservative punditry and one of the most prominent radio hosts in the country, has died aged 70 after battling lung cancer.

His wife announced his passing on his radio show on Wednesday.

“Losing a loved one is terribly difficult, even more so when that loved one is larger than life,” said Kathryn Limbaugh.

The rightwing host was a pioneer of talk-radio in the 1980s, luring millions of listeners through his combative and off-the-cuff style, and helping define the modern Republican party.

Born in Missouri, Limbaugh started working in radio after dropping out of university. Over the decades he drew an avid fan base by taunting liberals, to the delight of conservatives, coining incendiary terms such as “feminazi” to describe women’s rights activists.

Limbaugh’s high energy and provocative style helped him rise through the ranks of AM radio, which had been unable to compete with FM on music sound quality, helping to make the format commercially viable.

His rise coincided with the 1987 decision made by the Federal Communications Commission during the Ronald Reagan administration to abolish the “fairness doctrine”, a law requiring radio stations to present both sides of controversial issues.

While his listeners ate up his provocative comments, they sometimes landed him in trouble. In 2003, he stepped down from a stint at ESPN, the Disney-owned TV network, after making racially charged comments on air.

In a rare concession, Limbaugh in 2012 apologised for calling a Georgetown law student a “slut” after she declared support for health insurance coverage for birth control during a congressional panel. Some advertisers abandoned his show after the incident.

Limbaugh’s commercial success persisted over the decades. In 2008 he landed an eight-year contract with distributor iHeartMedia for a reported $400m. He renewed his contract last year.

Limbaugh was an early supporter of Donald Trump’s bid for the White House, and the former president praised Limbaugh as a “great guy and fantastic political talent”. Trump rewarded Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2020.

Limbaugh’s death drew tributes from prominent conservatives in media and politics, including Trump, who called in to Fox News on Wednesday to commemorate Limbaugh in his first live interview since leaving the White House.

“He would get up in the show and just talk . . . He would just talk for two hours or three hours, just talk,” Trump said. “That’s not an easy thing to do.”

Limbaugh last year announced on air that he had advanced lung cancer, telling his fans he would miss upcoming broadcasts ahead of the US presidential election.

He had remained active on his show until February 2, hitting out at liberals and defending the Trump supporters who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, comparing them to colonists who sparked the American Revolution in the 1700s.

Last October he updated his followers on his health, telling them: “I do get fatigued now. I do get very, very tired now.”

In the same update he said: “We all know that we’re going to die at some point, but when you have a terminal disease diagnosis that has a timeframe to it, then that puts a different psychological and even physical awareness to it.”

He added: “It’s tough to realise that the days where I do not think I’m under a death sentence are over.”