The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Conservative radio host and vaccine critic dies of covid-19 complications

His friends and family say Dick Farrel urged others to get vaccinated before his death

Conservative radio host Dick Farrel with longtime fiancee Kittie Farley. (Photo courtesy of Kittie Farley)
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A conservative radio host in Florida who vehemently criticized the coronavirus vaccine has died of covid-19 complications, his fiancee and life partner Kittie Farley confirmed Monday.

On Aug. 4, Farrel Austin Levitt, publicly known as Dick Farrel, died of “severe damage” caused by covid, Farley told The Washington Post. He was 65.

Farrel, a vocal supporter of former president Donald Trump, said on his Facebook page last month that inoculations were “promoted by people who lied [to you] all along about masks, where the virus came from and the death toll.”

However, Farrel swiftly changed his perspective about the vaccine after he contracted the virus, his friends and family said.

Less than two weeks before his death, Amy Leigh Hair said she texted Farrel, her friend for more than two decades, to tell him she was getting her first shot of the coronavirus vaccine.

“Get it!” he responded in a text message. “And then he told me that this virus is no joke and then he said: ‘I wish I had gotten it!’ ” Hair told The Post on Monday, urging others to get vaccinated.

Hair described Farrel as a “fun, loving person who was like a walking history book” and who deeply enjoyed engaging in political conversations.

“I still cannot believe he is gone,” she said through tears.

Farrel was first diagnosed with the virus after he felt “a tickle in his throat,” and he was sent to recover at home, said Farley, who had been engaged to Farrel since 2012. Ten days later, he was barely able to talk and breathing heavily, and he was then admitted to the ICU, Farley said.

“He fought like a tiger. Please don’t put off getting attention for this illness,” Farley wrote on Facebook, according to WPTV. Her profile is now private. “We will always love Dick Farrel, always appreciate his spirit, and miss him greatly. He was known as the other Rush Limbaugh. With a heavy heart, I can only say this was so unexpected.”

Dick Farrel’s former co-worker and fellow radio host George Kalman shared some details about Farrel’s life with WPTV. Born in the New York borough of Queens, he worked a string of radio jobs during his life, Kalman said.

“Covid got him. As you can imagine, I am very upset about his demise and will miss him greatly,” Kalman told WPTV.

Newsmax TV said in a statement that Farrel was a substitute host for the cable news channel in previous years.

“Dick was a popular radio host in Florida and always a friend of Newsmax. We mourn his passing and hope everyone can learn from his unnecessary death the importance of getting vaccinated,” Brian Peterson, a Newsmax spokesman, wrote in an email to The Post.

Kalman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Farrel previously was scathing in his criticism of the vaccine and of America’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci. Farrel called Fauci a “power tripping lying freak” in a Facebook post last month.

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Farrel is among a number of Americans who refused to get vaccinated against the virus — only to apparently later have a change of heart once hospitalized with the disease.

Some have also implored the unvaccinated not to make the same mistake they did — in some cases, just days before they died.

They rejected coronavirus shots. In the hospital, they changed their minds.

In Tennessee, another conservative talk radio host, Phil Valentine, who publicly espoused skepticism toward vaccines, was hospitalized after falling critically ill with the virus, his brother said in late July, urging Valentine’s fans to get vaccinated.

“Phil would like for his listeners to know that while he has never been an ‘anti-vaxer’ he regrets not being more vehemently ‘Pro-Vaccine’ and looks forward to being able to more vigorously advocate that position as soon as he is back on the air, which we all hope will be soon,” Mark Valentine wrote on Facebook separately last month.

Florida is the main U.S. hotbed of a summer coronavirus spike fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant. The state has reported a fifth of all new U.S. infections and current hospitalizations.

On Friday, Florida reported 22,783 new cases of the virus and 199 deaths. In the past week, new daily reported cases rose 22 percent, and new daily reported deaths surged by 69 percent, with just under half of Florida’s population fully vaccinated, according to a Washington Post tracker on Monday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has consistently railed against mask mandates and further social shutdowns.

“We can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state, and I can tell you, Florida, we’re a free state,” DeSantis said at a news conference last week.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.