Jerry Falwell dead at 73


Summary

The man credited with turning America's religious right into a potent political force in the 1980s, Jerry Falwell, has died.

The 73 year-old was found unconscious in his office at the university in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia.

"Dr Falwell was a giant of faith, a visionary leader," said university executive vice-president Ronald Godwin, adding the two had eaten breakfast together just a few hours earlier.

"Dr Falwell is a huge, huge leader here in this area and in the nation at large," he said.

His doctor, Carl Moore, said efforts to resuscitate Falwell in his office and later at the hospital were unsuccessful.

"He is known to have a heart condition," Moore said, adding that he presumed the death was heart-related.

Religious powerhouse

Over a long career as a conservative firebrand, Falwell's Christian movement's alliance with Republican conservatives was key to helping elect Ronald Reagan to the presidency twice in the 1980s.

But his reputation was also marked by inflammatory statements against blacks, Muslims, Jews, civil and women's rights activists as well as liberals in general.

Born to a well-off businessman in Lynchburg, in southwestern Virginia in 1933, Falwell joined the Baptist church in 1952 and then attended the Baptist Bible College in Missouri. He ordained four years later and launched his Thomas Road Baptist Church in a former soft drink bottling plant.

He popularised the church through his "The Old Time Gospel Hour" television show, a prototype for modern "televangelism," and its congregation had grown to some 22,000 members in the years before his death.

He established Liberty University in his hometown, building it to an institution with more than 7,000 students.

"God literally turned my life around," he recalled in an interview published before his death on his church website.

He made his mark on national politics in 1979 with Moral Majority, a Christian political coalition with millions of members that aimed to elect conservatives, ban abortion and reinstate Christian prayer in schools.

Reactions from politicians and Christian leaders praising Falwell began to pour in shortly after his death was announced.

"Jerry has been a tower of strength on many of the moral issues which have confronted our nation," said fellow evangelist and political activist Pat Robertson.

Mitt Romney, whose Mormon faith poses a barrier among conservative Christians to his challenge for the US presidency in 2008, also praised Falwell as "a man of deep personal faith and commitment to helping those around him."

"An American who built and led a movement based on strong principles and strong faith has left us. He will be greatly missed, but the legacy of his important work will continue through his many ministries where he put his faith into action," said Congressman Romney.


The man credited with turning America's religious right into a potent political force in the 1980s, Jerry Falwell, has died.

The 73 year-old was found unconscious in his office at the university in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia.

"Dr Falwell was a giant of faith, a visionary leader," said university executive vice-president Ronald Godwin, adding the two had eaten breakfast together just a few hours earlier.

"Dr Falwell is a huge, huge leader here in this area and in the nation at large," he said.

His doctor, Carl Moore, said efforts to resuscitate Falwell in his office and later at the hospital were unsuccessful.

"He is known to have a heart condition," Moore said, adding that he presumed the death was heart-related.

Religious powerhouse

Over a long career as a conservative firebrand, Falwell's Christian movement's alliance with Republican conservatives was key to helping elect Ronald Reagan to the presidency twice in the 1980s.

But his reputation was also marked by inflammatory statements against blacks, Muslims, Jews, civil and women's rights activists as well as liberals in general.

Born to a well-off businessman in Lynchburg, in southwestern Virginia in 1933, Falwell joined the Baptist church in 1952 and then attended the Baptist Bible College in Missouri. He ordained four years later and launched his Thomas Road Baptist Church in a former soft drink bottling plant.

He popularised the church through his "The Old Time Gospel Hour" television show, a prototype for modern "televangelism," and its congregation had grown to some 22,000 members in the years before his death.

He established Liberty University in his hometown, building it to an institution with more than 7,000 students.

"God literally turned my life around," he recalled in an interview published before his death on his church website.

He made his mark on national politics in 1979 with Moral Majority, a Christian political coalition with millions of members that aimed to elect conservatives, ban abortion and reinstate Christian prayer in schools.

Reactions from politicians and Christian leaders praising Falwell began to pour in shortly after his death was announced.

"Jerry has been a tower of strength on many of the moral issues which have confronted our nation," said fellow evangelist and political activist Pat Robertson.

Mitt Romney, whose Mormon faith poses a barrier among conservative Christians to his challenge for the US presidency in 2008, also praised Falwell as "a man of deep personal faith and commitment to helping those around him."

"An American who built and led a movement based on strong principles and strong faith has left us. He will be greatly missed, but the legacy of his important work will continue through his many ministries where he put his faith into action," said Congressman Romney.