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Oral Roberts; built ministry, university

TULSA, Okla. - Oral Roberts, 91, the evangelist who rose from humble tent revivals to found a multimillion-dollar ministry and a university bearing his name, died yesterday.

TULSA, Okla. - Oral Roberts, 91, the evangelist who rose from humble tent revivals to found a multimillion-dollar ministry and a university bearing his name, died yesterday.

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

Mr. Roberts was a pioneer on two fronts - he helped bring spirit-filled charismatic Christianity into the mainstream and took his trademark revivals to television, a new frontier for religion.

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, cohosting the program Miracles Now with his 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."

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 prayer tower and a 60-foot 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 Mr. Roberts' widely ridiculed proclamation that God would "call me home" if he failed to meet a fund-raising goal of $8 million.

That episode and others, plus an extravagant lifestyle, made Mr. Roberts the butt of jokes of late-night TV comics and editorial cartoonists. In 1980, he was jeered for claiming to see a 900-foot Jesus.

Granville Oral Roberts was born Jan. 24, 1918, in Pontotoc County, Okla., the son of a Pentecostal evangelist. He grew up in poverty and had tuberculosis as a teenager. He gave his first sermon in 1935 after attending a revival meeting that he said resulted in his being healed.

Semiretired in recent years in California, he returned to Tulsa in October 2007 as scandal roiled Oral Roberts University.

His son, who succeeded him as ORU president, faced allegations of spending university money on shopping sprees and luxuries at a time the institution was $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 by billionaire Oklahoma businessman Mart Green, who donated $70 million and helped run the school in the interim, pledging to restore the public's trust.

By this fall, things were looking up, with officials saying tens of millions of dollars worth of debt had been paid off and enrollment was up slightly.

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

In addition to his son, Mr. Roberts is survived by a daughter, Roberta. His wife of 66 years, Evelyn, died in 2005 at age 88.