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Chick-fil-A spokesman Don Perry dies as company battles controversy

Peter Frey

Don Perry joined Chick-fil-A in 1983.

Updated at 5 p.m. ET: Chick-fil-A's vice president of public relations, Don Perry, died suddenly early Friday, the company said, leaving the embattled restaurant chain without its chief spokesman amid a marketing crisis.

"Don was a member of our Chick-fil-A family for nearly 29 years," the company said in a statement. "For many of you in the media, he was the spokesperson for Chick-fil-A.  He was a well-respected and well-liked media executive in the Atlanta and University of Georgia communities, and we will all miss him."

WRBL, a CBS television affiliate in Columbus, Ga., reported that Perry died of a heart attack, citing franchise owner Ross Cathy, son of Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy. A company spokesman said he could not confirm the cause of death.

Chick-fil-A has come under fire from some patrons, politicians and supporters of same-sex marriage over Dan Cathy's public support for traditional marriage and the "biblical definition" of families.

Protesters have demonstrated outside restaurants against what some describe as the company's "intolerance" of same-sex marriage. Chick-fil-A has a long tradition of adhering to conservative religious practices including closing on Sunday.

In the wake of Cathy's remarks about marriage, officials in cities including Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia have told the company it was not welcome, although some have since backpedaled. For its part, Chick-fil-A, which operates more than 1,600 restaurants in 39 states, has tried to defuse the crisis by saying they intend to leave the issue of same-sex marriage to the political arena.

Perry, who joined Chick-fil-A in 1983 as manager of corporate PR, was a graduate of the University of Georgia’s college of journalism and served on the board of the University of Georgia Foundation.

He helped company founder Truett Cathy write six books, according to a company biography.

Related: Chick-fil-A out of the fryer, into the fire

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Fans of Chick-Fil-A's food, and foes of the company's anti-gay stance, plan to attend the opening of a new Southern California location. KNBC's Janet Kwak reports.