Televangelist Jerry Falwell, who helped launch a social conservative movement in the 1970s and 80s that often took aim at Hollywood and indecency, died today, the AP reports.
Unabashedly outspoken, Falwell was a frequent presence not only on Sunday morning religious programming but also on Sunday morning talk shows and as a cable pundit. His criticisms of the gay community often ran afoul of those in the entertainment community, particularly when he launched an attack on the Teletubbies for featuring what he characterized as a gay character.
His Moral Majority, founded in 1979, was in part a response to what his supporters called a coarsening of the culture and to a liberal agenda in the country. The group proved to be so much a potent force in politics that it helped inspire producer Norman Lear to create a counter movement, People for the American Way, which promoted progressive causes and civil liberties.
Presidential candidate John McCain turned his attack on Falwell and others on the religious right in 2000, when he called them “agents of intolerance.” But McCain tried a rapproachment with Falwell last year, and spoke at Liberty in what detractors say was an attempt by the maverick politician to appeal to the party’s social conservatives in advance of a White House run.
Although he ran into frequent controversy, supporters noted that his fundamentalist church and Liberty University built elementary schools, homes for unwed mothers and treatment homes for alcoholics.
Days after Sept. 11, 2001, Falwell essentially blamed feminists, gays, lesbians and liberal groups for bringing on the terrorist attacks. He later apologized.
With his “Old Time Gospel Hour,” he was one of the first televangelists to use television to expand his ministry.
Falwell’s suit against Hustler magazine, for a parody ad that featured him in a mock interview, was featured in the 1996 movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”
In 1979, Falwell played a central role in wresting control of PTL from Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, then involved in allegations of financial improprieties having to do with their Heritage USA theme park. He had pledged to plunge down the theme park’s waterslide if they got enough donations to save the ministry, although less than a year later Falwell left because the finances were in worse shape than he originally thought.