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May 17, 2007

Rev. Jerry Falwell Dies

TV Evangelist was 73

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist and founder of the Moral Majority, died Tuesday in a Lynchburg, Va., hospital. Falwell had been found unconscious in his office at Liberty University, which he founded as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971. He was 73.

Falwell was born August 11, 1933, in Lynchburg. His father was an entrepreneur who operated several businesses, and also became involved in bootlegging liquor during Prohibition. Although his father was not religious, Falwell’s mother Helen was a woman of profound faith.

Falwell accepted Christ at age 18, and two months later decided to become a minister. He established his first church, an independent Baptist congregation of 35, in the early 1950s.

He was one of the first religious figures to use television as a means for delivering his message. He began a daily radio broadcast shortly after establishing his church, and within six months it had become a television show, Thomas Road Baptist Church Presents. It was later renamed the Old Time Gospel Hour.

In 1971, the same year he founded his college, Old Time Gospel Hour began broadcasting nationwide, giving him a far-reaching platform for his message.

In 1979 he established the Moral Majority, a coalition of people of different faiths united by shared beliefs on various conservative issues, including opposition to abortion, homosexuality, pornography and bans on school prayer. The organization eventually grew to 6.5 million members, and helped to galvanize conservatives into a political force. It was credited with helping to elect Ronald Reagan to the presidency and shifting Senate control to the Republican Party in 1980.

Falwell left the Moral Majority in 1987, citing a desire to focus on his ministry and Liberty University.

Throughout his public life, Falwell was an outspoken figure whose staunchly faith-based worldview and inflammatory rhetoric stirred controversy on several occasions.

In 1999, Falwell told an evangelical conference that the Antichrist was probably already alive, and would come in the form of a Jewish male. He later apologized for the remark. Shortly afterward, an article in his National Liberty Journal wrote that Tinky Winky, a character on the children’s television series Teletubbies, was a gay role model because it was purple, carried a purse and had a triangular appendage atop its head.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Falwell called Muhammad a terrorist and suggested that feminists, gays, lesbians and liberal groups bore some responsibility for bringing on the attacks. He later apologized for his comments.

He also gained attention for a 1984 lawsuit seeking $45 million from Hustler magazine, which he claimed had libeled him in an ad parody that depicted him as an incestuous drunkard. A federal jury found the magazine did not libel Falwell, but awarded him $200,000 for emotional distress. That verdict was later overturned in a landmark 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that the First Amendment extended to pornographic spoofs about a public figure. The incident was later chronicled in the 1996 film The People Against Larry Flynt.

Falwell is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter, a brother and eight grandchildren.

Falwell Talks with the Archive of American Television

The Academy of Television Arts & Science Foundation’s Archive of American Television interview Falwell on October 16, 2003, at Liberty University in Lynchburg. During the two-hour interview, conducted by Don Carleton, Falwell talked about growing up the son of an entrepreneur, and his eventual calling to the Christian ministry. He discussed starting his first television broadcast, Thomas Road Baptist Church Presents, and how it eventually became The Old Time Gospel Hour. He spoke about the growing popularity of the program and its eventual syndication worldwide as well as its transmission over satellite. Falwell also described his founding and the goals of the Moral Majority and Liberty University. He detailed the controversy surrounding his political views, the fallout from the PTL scandal that hit religious broadcasting in the late 1980s and his treatment by the mainstream media.

The interviewed may be viewed online here

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