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May 15, 2007

UPDATED: Televangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell dies at 73

LYNCHBURG, Va. — The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist who founded the Moral Majority and used it to mold the religious right into a political force, died Tuesday shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University. He was 73.

Ron Godwin, the university's executive vice president, said Falwell was found unresponsive late Tuesday morning and taken to Lynchburg General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.

"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."

Dr. Carl Moore, Falwell's physician, said the evangelist had a heart rhythm abnormality. He said Falwell was found without a pulse and never regained consciousness.

Falwell had made careful preparations for a transition of his leadership to his two sons, Jerry Falwell, Jr., now vice-chancellor of Liberty University, and Jonathan Falwell, executive the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church.

One daughter, Jeannie Falwell Savas, Surgeon, Richmond, Va. Godwin said. "He has left instructions for those of us who had to carry on, and we will be faithful to that charge," Godwin said.

Falwell had 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.

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

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.

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