Rev. Jerry Falwell dies at 73 - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Rev. Jerry Falwell dies at 73

LYNCHBURG, VA (WIS) - A preacher and broadcaster who became the face of the religious right, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, has died at age 73.

An official at Liberty University says the founder of the Moral Majority was found unconscious in his office at the Virginia college earlier Tuesday, which he established in 1971 as part of his formidable religious empire. 

The official said he was not sure what caused the collapse, but that Falwell "has a history of heart challenges."

He added that Falwell seemed "fine" at breakfast Tuesday morning.

It's not yet clear what caused the collapse. His doctor says Falwell had a heart rhythm abnormality.

Falwell arrived at Lynchburg General Hospital around noon.

Falwell started a small church in 1956 inside an abandoned bottling plant. His enterprises would grow to include the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church, the "Old Time Gospel Hour" carried on television stations around the country, and Liberty University, which has 7,700 students.

He also built Christian elementary schools, homes for unwed mothers and a home for alcoholics.

He had opposed mixing preaching with politics. But in 1979, he founded the Moral Majority. Falwell later credited the group with getting millions of conservative voters registered, electing Ronald Reagan and giving Republicans Senate control in 1980.

The lobbying organization raised millions to support conservative politicians and campaign against abortion, homosexuality, pornography and bans on school prayer.

With Falwell's high profile came frequent criticism, even from fellow ministers. The Reverend Billy Graham once rebuked him for political sermonizing on "non-moral issues."

Days after the September 11th attacks, Falwell essentially blamed feminists, gays, lesbians and liberal groups for bringing on the attack. He later apologized.

In 1999, he told a conference that the Antichrist was a male Jew who was probably already alive. He later apologized for the remark but not for holding the belief.

A month later, Falwell's National Liberty Journal sent out a warning about a purple, purse-toting character on TV's "Teletubbies" show. The character was seen as a gay role model and morally damaging to children.

Falwell survived two serious health scares in early 2005. He was hospitalized for two weeks with what was described as a viral infection. He 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 is survived by his wife, Macel, and three children, Jerry, Jonathan and Jeannie.

Copyright 2007 Raycom Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.

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