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Church Founder Herbert W. Armstrong Dies at 93

January 16, 1986|RUSSELL CHANDLER | Times Religion Writer

Herbert W. Armstrong, a pioneer radio preacher who used his sales talents to build the multimillion-dollar Pasadena-based Worldwide Church of God, died today in his Pasadena home.

He was 93 and his death came two days after Joseph K. Tkach, director of church administration, was named to succeed Armstrong as head of the 90,000-member church.

"I am in a very physically weakened state, enduring severe pain and with virtually no strength whatsoever," Armstrong wrote church members.

The jet-setting Armstrong was the controversial patriarch of a religious empire often as mysterious as it was famous. In 1934 he founded the Radio Church of God on a shoestring in Eugene, Ore. He moved it to Pasadena in 1946, renamed it the Worldwide Church of God in 1968, and proceeded to build a lavish church headquarters and the Ambassador College campus near the corner of Orange Grove Avenue and Green Street.

Auditorium Project

The opulent Ambassador Auditorium, a pet Armstrong project and a showplace for performing arts concerts, was built for $11 million in 1974.

In recent years, Armstrong's health and vision had been declining. His attorneys repeatedly tried to keep him from having to testify at church-related civil suits. Even when he was in good health, Armstrong, once a widower and once divorced at age 92, ducked court appearances and rarely spoke to the media.

The Worldwide Church teaches a blend of Christian fundamentalism with non-Trinitarian and Seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday worship) doctrine. Members are expected to contribute up to 30% of their income to the church.

In 1984, the Worldwide Church lost a $1.26-million libel and slander suit (later appealed) that had been filed by the former wife of a Worldwide Church executive. She claimed in the suit that Armstrong and other church leaders had tried to smear her reputation after her 1976 divorce.

Wracked by Troubles

The church also was wracked during the late 1970s and early 1980s with sweeping defections, personnel shake-ups and continued allegations by several former members that Armstrong and other church leaders had siphoned off millions of dollars for personal use.

All this transpired shortly after Armstrong's son, Garner Ted Armstrong, known as the "silver-tongued" voice of the church's World Tomorrow TV broadcast and heir-apparent to the Worldwide empire, was ousted by his father in a power struggle. The son founded his own Church of God International in Tyler, Tex., and the rift was never healed.

United Press International quoted the son as saying he would attend his father's funeral Sunday or Monday. "He is to be buried in a family plot in Altadena," Garner Ted Armstrong said. "He had asked that it be a graveside service only."

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