In this Dec. 24, 1997, file photo, Rev. Robert H. Schuller delivers one of seven candlelight Christmas Eve services from the Crystal Cathedral pulpit in Garden Grove, Calif.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/AP

Televangelist, megachurch founder Robert Schuller dies at 88

Televangelist Robert Schuller, who built a California megachurch known worldwide for its weekly “Hour of Power” broadcasts only to see his Crystal Cathedral ministry devolve into bankruptcy and family squabbles, died on Thursday at age 88.

Schuller’s grandson, Robert Vernon “Bobby” Schuller, announced the death on social media, saying his grandfather was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2013.

The death marked a closing chapter for a Protestant congregation the elder Schuller started in 1955 in a drive-in movie theater in the Orange County suburb of Garden Grove and expanded into a worldwide following.

His Sunday morning television broadcast was carried internationally and aired for over four decades, featuring celebrity guests and drawing 30 million viewers a week at its peak.

RELATED: The super-sized growth behind megachurches

He retired as senior pastor in 2006 and resigned from the church’s board six years later in a financial dispute with its leaders following the $57.5 million bankruptcy sale of the ministry’s landmark Crystal Cathedral.

The towering structure, which opened in 1980 and was distinguished for its 10,000-pane glass walls, was purchased by the Roman Catholic Church Diocese of Orange.

At about the same time, Schuller’s daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, who had assumed leadership of the church after Schuller’s son was removed as senior pastor, led the establishment of a breakaway congregation.

The original congregation moved its services to a rented space with a new name, Shepherd’s Grove, now under the direction of Schuller’s grandson.

Born and raised in a rural Dutch-American community in Iowa, Schuller graduated from seminary school and was ordained in Illinois before moving to California in the 1950s.

He began preaching from atop a concession stand at a drive-in theater, advertising his services with the tagline, “Come as you are … in the family car.”

He ultimately built his flock into one of America’s first megachurches, financing his ministry largely from donations raised during his “Hour of Power” broadcasts.

He also published about three dozen inspirational books, including several bestsellers, and provided spiritual guidance to President Bill Clinton. He distinguished himself from other televangelists of his era by emphasizing healing and hope over prosperity.

“Schuller … was talking about the possibilities in your life. Period. Not attaining wealth,” church spokesman Michael Nason told the Orange County Register.

He made headlines in 1997 in a less flattering episode when he was accused of assaulting an airline attendant during a flight. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, apologized and paid a $10,000 fine.

Pop Culture and Religion

Televangelist, megachurch founder Robert Schuller dies at 88