The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the folksy, small-town preacher who used the power of television to found the Moral Majority and turn the Christian right into a mighty force in American politics during the Reagan years, died Tuesday at 73.
One of Falwell’s most memorable opponents was Hustler kingpin Larry Flynt, who had a very public legal battle with the Reverend over freedom of speech rights.
At the heart of the case was a satirical ad that ran in Hustler in 1983with the headline “Jerry Falwell Talks About His First Time,” in which the magazine described a drunken Falwell having an incestuous encounter with his mother.
Falwell sued Flynt (pictured together on “Larry King Live” in 1997), alleging libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that a public figure could not recover damages over distress based on satire under the umbrella of free speech.
Upon hearing of his death, Flynt released the following statement to Access Hollywood:
“The Reverend Jerry Falwell and I were arch enemies for fifteen years. We became involved in a lawsuit concerning First Amendment rights and Hustler magazine. Without question, this was my most important battle the l988 Hustler Magazine, Inc., v. Jerry Falwell case, where after millions of dollars and much deliberation, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in my favor.
My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in
California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling.
The most important result of our relationship was the landmark decision from the Supreme Court that made parody protected speech, and the fact that much of what we see on television and hear on the radio today is a direct result of my having won that now famous case which Falwell played such an important role in.”
Falwell is survived by his wife, Macel, his two sons and a daughter, Jeannie Falwell Savas. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.
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