Mental Floss

8 Things You Didn't Know About Jerry Falwell

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1. He Was Friends with Larry Flynt

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2. Prankster in the Pulpit

To those who knew him well, Rev. Falwell was known as a consummate prankster. He carried M-80 firecrackers in his pockets, had an extra-loud horn installed on his SUV, and learned to hotwire his associates' cars, drive them several blocks away, and leave them. When we spoke, Falwell admitted placing a stinkbomb under the chair leg of Bob Jones, Jr., then-president of Bob Jones University, at a conference of pastors. "When he sat down, the bomb broke," he said, laughing. "And in a crowded auditorium, it got pretty rank pretty quick. Everyone was choking for ten, fifteen minutes."

3. How He Stole His Wife

When Rev. Falwell first met Macel Pate, who would become his wife of 49 years, she was already engaged "“ to Falwell's roommate at Bible college. Undeterred, Falwell wrote her love letters in secret, and when his roommate asked him to mail his own correspondence to Macel, Falwell simply threw the letters away. Within months, Macel had broken off her engagement to the roommate and agreed to marry Falwell instead. Stealing another man's fiancée isn't exactly a biblical approach, but all's fair in love and war.

4. He Almost Played Pro Ball

Before he became the pastor of one of America's largest churches, Falwell was a star baseball player. After graduating from high school, he received an offer to join the St. Louis Cardinals, but turned it down in order to enroll in Bible college. Until the end of his life, he remained an avid sports fan, and often showed up unannounced to watch various Liberty teams compete.

5. Almost as Loved as Reagan

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6. His Daily Uniform

In his later years, Rev. Falwell was a famously predictable dresser. Every day was the same: black suit, red tie. When I talked to him in April 2007, he confessed that he had 40 or 50 red ties, enough to avoid repeats for months at a time. When he died, Liberty students came up with a novel twist on the typical black-ribbon mourning symbol: a black ribbon with a red tie dangling from the loop.

7. Armor of the Lord

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8. A Heart for Alcoholics

Rev. Falwell's father, Carey Falwell, worked as a bootlegger during the Great Depression and eventually died of liver problems caused by alcoholism. Although Falwell was morally opposed to drinking, he retained a soft spot for people who, like his father, had become trapped in alcoholism, and in 1959, he founded the Elim Home for recovering alcoholics, which exists to this day six miles north of Liberty's campus.

Kevin Roose's excellent book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University goes on sale nationally next week, but that shouldn't stop you from pre-ordering it today! If you missed Kevin's post from yesterday (on 5 Rules at America's Holiest University), be sure to check that out here.

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