Fundamentalist pastor and Moral Majority founder Rev. Jerry Falwell died on Tuesday shortly after he was found unconscious in his office at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. He was 73.
Ron Godwin, the university’s executive vice president, told the Associated Press that Falwell, who had “a history of heart challenges,” was found unresponsive around 10:45 a.m. and taken to Lynchburg General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.
Falwell’s doctor, Carl Moore, told the AP that Falwell had a heart rhythm abnormality and that he was found without a pulse and never regained consciousness.
A force in American politics for nearly three decades, Falwell founded the political lobbying organization the Moral Majority in 1979 and credited it with mobilizing millions of conservative voters and electing Ronald Reagan. According to the AP, the Moral Majority eventually grew to 6.5 million members and raised $69 million as it campaigned against abortion, homosexuality, pornography and bans on school prayer.
Falwell left the Moral Majority in 1987, claiming he was tired of being “a lightning rod,” but he continued to make headlines with his comments about everything from the Teletubbies (his National Liberty Journal called Tinky Winky a gay role model) to Sept. 11 (he blamed “the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians,” but later said his remarks had been taken out of context).
He most recently served as founder and chancellor of Liberty University and founder and senior pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church. He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Macel, three adult children and eight grandchildren.