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Controversial TV Preacher Jerry Falwell Dies

Televangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell, 73, has died of a heart attack in Lynchburg, Va., according to various reports.

Falwell was part of a group of TV ministers, the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, that opposes a la carte cable service, though not all religious broadcasters agree.

Falwell's moral majority was a major force of the Christian right in the 1980's, including in the push-back on sexual broadcast content. He even warned against the TeleTubbies for he saw as possible promotion for homosexuality. Falwell's political activism helped mobilize the religious right and was credited with helping elect Ronald Reagan. He remained a powerful and controversial figure, including for on-air comments on fellow televangelist Pat Robertson's 700 Clubthat what he saw as the nation's moral decline might have contributed to 9/11. He later softened those statements.

Falwell launched his radio and TV ministry, The Old Time Gospel Hour, in 1965 in Lynchburg and eventually claimed to be available in every home and on every continent except Antarctica.

Falwell took over the cable and broadcast ministries immediately following the fall of Jim Bakker from the PTL Television Network. He was also the subject of a key First Amendment case.

The major broadcast networks and the National Association of Broadcasters found themselves aligned with Hustler publisher Larry Flynt back in 1987 when Falwell won a $200,000 judgment against Flynt, later upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, for "infliction of emotional distress" for a parody of Fallwell the magazine had published. Broadcasters were concerned that if the decision were allowed to stand reporting and criticism would be chilled.

The Supreme Court overturned that decision in 1988, which was hailed as a strong affirmation of the "actual malice" standard established in New York Times vs. Sullivan.

CNN quickly aired some footage Tuesday of an interview CNN's Christiane Amanpour had with Falwell just last week for a planned August special on religion.

In that interview, Falwell said he was praying for another 20 years so that he could see the completion of his expanding University. He pointed to a Biblical figure who was dying and prayed for an extra 15 years, and got it. " I am praying the same prayer, with an option to renew," he said.