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Jerry Falwell, a preacher, political activist, and founder of Liberty University, died Tuesday. He was 73.

Falwell was found unconscious in his Liberty University office and pronounced dead an hour later at Lynchburg General Hospital. The preacher, who had a history of cardiovascular problems, died of heart failure.

Falwell focused his energy at the beginning and end of his career on Thomas Road Baptist Church, which he founded in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1956. The church, which was independent before joining the Southern Baptist Convention in 1996, now has 24,000 members. Falwell was one of the first megachurch leaders to develop a large media following, said sociologist William Martin, who wrote about the Religious Right in his 1996 book With God on Our Side. Falwell's daily radio broadcast, "The Old-Time Gospel Hour," became a national television show, reaching millions of people. The show's audience was the core of Falwell's Moral Majority, which he launched in 1979 to lobby for "pro-traditional family values."

"He began to say, 'Get saved, get baptized, and get registered to vote,' almost putting them on a parallel," Martin told Christianity Today.

Falwell rallied millions of religious conservatives to become involved in politics when they preferred to separate faith from government, said Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

"Whether one agrees with his tactics or style, one at least has to grant that he was a major force in American political life," Cromartie said. Although Falwell long described himself as a fundamentalist, he countered the fundamentalist tradition of separatism.

"These lines between fundamentalism and evangelicalism have been blurred," Cromartie said. ...

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