Oral Roberts dies at 91

NEW YORK (AP) — A spokesman for Oral Roberts says the evangelist who rose from tent revivals to found a multimillion-dollar organization and an Oklahoma university bearing his name has died. He was 91.

Spokesman A. Larry Ross said by phone from Carrollton, Texas, that Roberts died Tuesday of complications from pneumonia in Newport Beach, Calif. Roberts was hospitalized after a fall on Saturday. He had survived two heart attacks in the 1990s and a broken hip in 2006.

Roberts overcame tuberculosis at age 17, and credited that triumph with leading him to become one of the country's most famous ministers.

By the 1960s and '70s, the Oklahoma-born Roberts was reaching millions around the world through broadcasting, publications and personal appearances. Oral Roberts University, chartered in 1963, became a Tulsa landmark.

Oral Roberts began broadcasting his spirit-filled revivals on television in the 1950s. He encouraged viewers to pray for healing and miracles and said those who give to God will get things in return. But he disliked being called a faith healer, declaring: "God heals -- I don't."

By the 1960s and '70s, Roberts was reaching millions worldwide through radio, television, publications and personal appearances. Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was chartered in 1963.

The Reverend Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, said in a statement that without Oral Roberts, "the entire charismatic movement might not have occurred."

The Reverend Billy Graham says he spoke on the phone about three weeks ago to fellow evangelist Oral Roberts, who died today at the age of 91.

Graham says in a statement that in the last of many conversations they had over the years, Roberts told him "that he was near the end of his life's journey."

Remembering Oral Roberts as "a man of God, and a great friend in ministry," Graham says he "loved him as a brother" and looks forward to seeing him again in heaven.

Richard Roberts says his father and Billy Graham were friends for more than 60 years and used to "sneak into the back" of each other's crusades to enjoy the preaching.

Richard Roberts says he was holding his father's hand when he died.

Revered by millions who heard his message of God's healing power, ridiculed by others for tying his own mortality to a fundraising need, Oral Roberts was a towering figure in 20th century American Christianity.

Roberts was largely out of the public's consciousness in recent years. His most visible legacy predated his death by 45-plus years: his namesake university in Tulsa, Okla., the first Pentecostal university in the world, built by a man who never finished college.

Roberts also is credited with being at the forefront of taking the Christian message to television, helping make Pentecostal Christianity mainstream, bringing greater acceptance of divine healing and laying the foundation for the oft-criticized "prosperity gospel."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.