Paul Crouch, a pioneering televangelist who founded Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest Christian TV network, died today, according to the network's website. He was 79.
The church reported in October that Crouch had fallen ill and was taken to a Dallas-area hospital while on a visit to a TBN facility in Colleyville, Texas. He had "heart and related health issues," the church said, and he was later returned to California for continued treatment.
The son of a Missouri missionary, Crouch moved to California in the early 1960s to manage the movie and television unit of the Assemblies of God. A decade later, after receiving what he believed was a message from God, he began to buy television stations, cable channels and satellites and developed enough Christian programming to sustain a 24-hour network.
By the mid-1980s, Orange County-based TBN was “the country’s most-watched religious network,” according to J. Gordon Melton and Jon R. Stone in their book “Prime-Time Religion: An Encyclopedia of Religious Broadcasting.”
PHOTOS: Paul Crouch: 1934-2013
With his bubbly wife Jan, Crouch anchored TBN’s flagship program, “Praise the Lord,” a nightly two-hour talk show featuring guests, Scripture and entertainment. He was known for preaching a gospel of prosperity, imploring viewers to open their pocketbooks to further God’s works and reap spiritual and material blessings in return.
During four decades on air he often generated controversy, in particular because of the extravagant lifestyle he and his wife led. Critics complained that his jets, mansions and lavish expense-account meals were paid by tax-exempt donations from TBN’s legion of “prayer partners,” whose pledges enabled the network to surpass its rivals in size and global reach.