FORT MILL, S.C. -- The Rev. Jerry Falwell said a quick prayer, closed his eyes and took a fully clothed plunge down the 60-foot water slide at the PTL's amusement park in celebration of a successful $22 million fund-raising campaign.
The 245-pound Falwell, traveling about 40 mph, hurtled feet-first into the waist-deep pool with a mountainous splash Thursday and came up sputtering about television coverage of his soggy slide and the arrival of Pope John Paul II.
'Can you imagine the fun? Split screen, the distinguished pope stepping off the plane from Rome in Miami and this nut, this Baptist preacher, coming down the waterslide for $22 million.'
Falwell's water-slide ride culminated a fund-raising campaign to keep the troubled television ministry and resort afloat after it went into bankrupty this summer.
The Moral Majority founder who took over the PTL when founder Jim Bakker resigned in a sex scandal had promised in July that he and Doug Oldham, the lead singer on the 'PTL Show,' would ride the Heritage USA water slide fully clothed if 1,000 contributors would send in $1,000 apiece.
Oldham backed out at the last minute, claiming a bad back.
Falwell told viewers of the 'PTL Show,' which covered his stunt 'live,' that the $1 million was part of $22 million raised since May 20 to help retire the ministry's $72 million debt.
Moaning pitiously and clutching an overhead bar, Falwell recited the 23rd Pslam, asked aloud 'Twenty-two million dollars -- was it worth it?' and eased himself into position at the top of the slide.
'I'm ready,' he said, letting go of the bar and crossing his hands over his chest like a corpse as he plummeted toward the wading pool below.
At a soggy news conference following his stunt, Falwell said he was not invited to meet the pope at an ecumenical prayer service at the University of South Carolina stadium and 'had I been invited I could not have appeared.'
'Doctrinally, the pope and I would be poles apart,' he said, 'but I admire him for his stand on moral and social issues. I admire him for his courage in the face of his critics.'