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Former congressman, Senate candidate Galifianakis dies at 94

Buttons that read "Keep Nick Galifianakis in Congress."
Buttons that read "Keep Nick Galifianakis in Congress."

A funeral will be held this weekend for former Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Galifianakis, who represented central North Carolina for several years before two unsuccessful Senate bids – the first against archconservative Jesse Helms.

Galifianakis died on Monday at age 94, according to obituary information from Hall-Wynne Funeral Service in Durham. Galifianakis, who had Parkinson’s disease for several years, died at a Raleigh retirement community, a family spokesman, Jack Pinnix, told The News & Observer of Raleigh.

A Durham native, son of Greek immigrants and Duke University graduate, Galifianakis was an attorney and ex-Marine first elected to the General Assembly in 1960. He was elected to Congress to 1966 and became a rising star in the party while serving three terms.

In 1972, Galifianakis defeated U.S. Sen. B. Everett Jordan in the Democratic primary but that November lost to the Republican Helms, then a Raleigh television commentator. It became a watershed year for Republicans in North Carolina as GOP candidates rode the coattails of President Richard Nixon’s landslide victory. Helms served in the Senate for 30 years.

The Helms campaign used a commercial blitz to attempt to link Galifianakis with Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern.

Galifianakis ran for U.S. Senate again in 1974 but lost to Attorney General Robert Morgan in the Democratic primary. He devoted himself to his Durham law practice in the years ahead.

A moderate by national political standards, Galifianakis was on the liberal edge of the political spectrum in North Carolina. He supported the Equal Rights Amendment and was the first member of the state’s congressional delegation to oppose the Vietnam War, The News & Observer reported.

While in the state House as a judiciary committee chairman, Galifianakis helped oversee the overhaul of the state's court system into what it largely remains today.

Galifianakis had a larger-than-life personality when it came to politics and campaigning. He used his long last name to his advantage, with his campaigns distributing two buttons – one read “GALIFI’’ and the other “ANAKIS.”

Galifianakis is survived by his wife, Louise, and two children. Actor Zach Galifianakis and cartoonist Nick Galifianakis are his nephews.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Durham.

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