Falwell was found unresponsive after missing a morning appointment, Ron Godwin, the executive vice president of Liberty University was quoted as saying in the Lynchburg News & Advance.
A public announcement was made at the Thomas Road Baptist Church, which Falwell founded in 1956 in an abandoned soft-drink bottling plant.
Falwell forged a political bloc dubbed the Moral Majority and railed against such issues as immorality, liberalism, communism, gay rights, pornography, abortion, the welfare state, sex education in schools, and the Equal Rights Amendment.
His pleas for contributions brought in more than $69 million a year to fund his various enterprises, including Liberty Baptist College where science students are taught that God created the world in six days.
Falwell lived in an impressive white house with a swimming pool when he was not traveling the world in a jet paid for by his followers. He had some wealthy supporters but his followers in Lynchburg were mainly working families.
Falwell was born Aug. 11, 1933, in Lynchburg. His father, Carey, was a successful businessman who died in 1948 of cirrhosis of the liver.
Falwell excelled as a student in high school and was named class valedictorian but was not allowed to give the valedictory speech after school officials discovered he had misused cafeteria tickets.
He said he was "saved" at the age of 18 at a local Baptist church where he met his wife, Macel. The couple were married 49 years and had three children.