Washington: Jerry Falwell, the conservative evangelical Christian leader whose Moral Majority became a potent US political force in the 1980s, died on 15 May 2007, an official at his Liberty University said.
Falwell, 73, was found unconscious late morning on 15 May in his office at the university in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, the university’s executive vice-president Ronald Godwin told a press conference.
“Dr Falwell was a giant of faith, a visionary leader,” Godwin said, adding that the two had eaten breakfast together just a few hours earlier.
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.
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 popularized 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.
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,” Romney said.