Video: Legendary preacher Oral Roberts dies

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    >> thanks.

    >>> late today, word came that a legendary american preacher oral roberts has died in newport, california. it is hard to remember a time when religion lewis leaders were not on television, but oral roberts was one of the very first to recognize its power and reach. nbc's george lewis has more on the man and the ministry that rose from old-fashioned tent revivals to a powerhouse of prayer.

    >> reporter: back in the early days of tv, long before anyone coined the term "televangelist," many watched oral roberts .

    >> be healed from the crown of your head to the souls of your feet. heal those little legs.

    >> reporter: skeptics would squawk at his claims of raising people, lazarous-like, from the dead.

    >> i won't tell you how many of the dead have been raised under my ministry and others.

    >> reporter: in 1963 he created oral roberts university in tulsa, oklahoma. his son richard succeeded him as university president , but was forced out two years ago after the school suffered severe financial problems. the elder roberts got embroiled in a major controversy in 1987 , with an emotional plea for money to fund the university's medical programs.

    >> if we don't do something soon, then god's going to call me home.

    >> reporter: roberts told viewers god gave him an ultimatum, that he would die unless he raised $8 million for the hospital in a year's time.

    >> will you help extend my life?

    >> reporter: the money came in, but many of his supporters left him afterward. oral roberts revolutionized the way religion was presented on television and paved the way or other tv preachers such as pat robertson .

    >> oral's legacy of bringing the message of faith to millions of people around the world, that's what he will be remembered for.

    >> reporter: oral roberts outlived his wife and two of his four children. he will be remembered as a man who fused old-time tent revival religion with tv technology and touched the lives of millions. george lewis , nbc news, los angeles .

updated 12/15/2009 5:44:13 PM ET 2009-12-15T22:44:13

Oral Roberts, a pioneer in televangelism who founded a multimillion-dollar ministry and a university that bears his name, died Tuesday. He was 91.

Roberts died of complications from pneumonia in Newport Beach, California, according to his spokesman, A. Larry Ross. The evangelist was hospitalized after a fall on Saturday. He had survived two heart attacks in the 1990s and a broken hip in 2006.

Roberts was a pioneer who broadcast his spirit-filled revivals on television, a new frontier for religion when he started in the 1950s. He was also a forerunner of the controversial "prosperity gospel" that has come to dominate televangelism. The evangelist's "Seed-Faith" theology held that those who give to God will get things in return.

"If God had not, in His sovereign will, raised up the ministry of Oral Roberts, the entire charismatic movement might not have occurred," said Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, in a statement.

Roberts overcame tuberculosis at age 17, when his brother carried him to a revival meeting where a healing evangelist was praying for the sick. Roberts said he was healed of the illness and of his youthful stuttering. He said that it was then that he heard God tell him he should build a university based on the Lord's authority and the Holy Spirit.

Roberts rose from humble tent revivals to become one of America's most famous preachers.

'Feeling like a lion'
He gave up a local pastorate in Enid in 1947 to enter an evangelistic ministry in Tulsa to pray for the healing of the whole person — the body, mind and spirit. The philosophy led many to call him a "faith healer," a label he rejected with the comment: "God heals — I don't."

By the 1960s and '70s, he was reaching millions around the world through radio, television, publications and personal appearances. He remained on TV into the new century, co-hosting the program, "Miracles Now," with son Richard. He published dozens of books and conducted hundreds of crusades. A famous photograph showed him working at a desk with a sign on it reading, "Make no little plans here."

He credited his oratorical skills to his faith, saying, "I become anointed with God's word, and the spirit of the Lord builds up in me like a coiled spring. By the time I'm ready to go on, my mind is razor-sharp. I know exactly what I'm going to say and I'm feeling like a lion."

Unity of body, mind and spirit became the theme of Oral Roberts University. The campus is a Tulsa landmark, with its space-age buildings laden with gold paint, including a 200-foot (61-meter) prayer tower and a 60-foot (18.3-meter) bronze statue of praying hands.

His ministry hit upon rocky times in the 1980s. There was controversy over his City of Faith medical center, a $250 million investment that eventually folded, and Roberts' widely ridiculed proclamation that God would "call me home" if he failed to meet a fundraising goal of $8 million. A law school he founded also was shuttered.

Scandal-plagued figure
Semiretired in recent years and living in California, he returned to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in October 2007 as scandal roiled Oral Roberts University. His son, Richard Roberts, who succeeded him as ORU president, faced allegations of spending university money on shopping sprees and other luxuries at a time the institution was more than $50 million in debt.

Richard Roberts resigned as president in November 2007, marking the first time since Oral Roberts University was chartered in 1963 that a member of the Roberts family would not be at its helm. The rocky period for the evangelical school was eased when billionaire Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green donated $70 million and helped run the school in the interim, pledging to restore the public's trust. By the fall of 2009, things were looking up, with officials saying tens of millions of dollars worth of debt had been paid off and enrollment was up slightly.

That September, a frail-looking Oral Roberts attended the ceremony when the school's new president, Mark Rutland, was formally inaugurated.

"He was not only my earthly father; he was my spiritual father and mentor," said son, Richard Roberts, in a statement.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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