TODAY: (Updated 12:55 p.m.) LYNCHBURG, Va. — The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority and built the religious right into a political force, died this morning shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University, a school executive said. He was 73.
Ron Godwin, the university's executive vice president, said Falwell, 73, was found unresponsive around 10:45 a.m. and taken to Lynchburg General Hospital. “CPR efforts were unsuccessful,” he said.
Godwin said he was not sure what caused the collapse, but he said Falwell “has a history of heart challenges.”
“I had breakfast with him, and he was fine at breakfast,” Godwin said. “He went to his office, I went to mine, and they found him unresponsive.”
Falwell survived two serious health scares in early 2005. He was hospitalized for two weeks with what was described as a viral infection, then was hospitalized again a few weeks later after going into respiratory arrest. Later that year, doctors found a 70 percent blockage in an artery, which they opened with stents.
Falwell credited his Moral Majority with getting millions of conservative voters registered, electing Ronald Reagan and giving Republicans Senate control in 1980.
“I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved,” Falwell said when he stepped down as Moral Majority president in 1987.
The fundamentalist church that Falwell started in an abandoned bottling plant in 1956 grew into a religious empire that includes the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church, the “Old Time Gospel Hour” carried on television stations around the country and 7,700-student Liberty University. He built Christian elementary schools, homes for unwed mothers and a home for alcoholics.
He also founded Liberty University in Lynchburg, which began as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971.
Liberty University's commencement is scheduled for Saturday, with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich as the featured speaker.