Larry Langford, the former Birmingham mayor whose captivating political career was ended by a conviction on public corruption charges, died Tuesday. He was 72 years old.
Langford died a little more than a week after being released from federal prison because of his failing health. The cause of death was not announced but attorneys earlier said Langford had end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema.
Langford was raised in poverty in a Birmingham housing project, but rose to become one of the Birmingham area's most charismatic and influential leaders.
He served in the U.S. military and in the early 1970s became one the first black television reporters in the city of Birmingham. Langford served as mayor of Fairfield, the president of the Jefferson County Commission and mayor of Birmingham.
With a flair for the theatrical, he never shied away from big ideas for the areas he served. During his political career, he championed the creation of an amusement park called Visionland and other efforts to make Birmingham a tourism destination. His unrealized plans included bringing the Olympics to Birmingham and building a domed stadium.
"Mayor Langford had an unmatched love for his community - a love he expressed through his boldness and creativity," current Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said Tuesday.
Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales said Langford, while unconventional in his approach, "was a pioneer and visionary who was well ahead of his time."
His political career ended in 2009 when he was convicted of taking bribes — in the form of cash, clothing and a Rolex— as a member of the county commission in exchange for steering bond business to an investment banker. A federal judge sentenced Langford to 15 years in prison.
"He sold Jefferson County out," Assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin said at his 2010 sentencing.
Langford maintained his innocence.
"This whole thing, my being in prison, found guilty by a jury that said it had made up its mind before hearing any testimony and sitting here watching elected officials take credit for my work just adds insult to injury," Langford told The Birmingham News in 2013.
Langford's supporters for years had lobbied for his release from prison because of his ill health. In November, the Federal Bureau of Prisons denied Langford a compassionate release despite his deteriorating condition saying he still "posed a danger to the safety of the community".