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TV evangelist Oral Roberts dead at 91

Oral Roberts, a U.S. evangelist who rose from humble tent revivals to found a multimillion-dollar ministry and a university bearing his name, is dead at 91.

U.S. evangelist Oral Roberts, who rose from an obscure tent revivalist to become one of the world's most recognized religious figures, with a televised ministry attracting millions of followers, died Tuesday. He was 91.

The charismatic Pentecostal evangelist died of complications of pneumonia in Newport Beach, Calif. He had been hospitalized after a fall on Saturday.

At the height of his influence in 1985, Roberts headed a religious, educational and communications enterprise based in Tulsa, Okla. The Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University employed more than 2,300 people and earned $110 million US in annual revenue.

The youngest of four children of a poor travelling Pentecostal preacher, Roberts overcame tuberculosis at age 17 and credited this for his decision to become a preacher himself.

He gave up his pastorate in Oklahoma in 1947, and not long after, rented an auditorium in Enid, Okla., for his first healing service, which attracted more than 1,000 people.

He credited his oratorical skills to his religious 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. I know exactly what I'm going to say and I'm feeling like a lion."

The rise of his ministry coincided with the development of television. He began his TV career in 1954 by filming his worship services. By the 1960s and '70s, he was reaching millions of people around the world.

In 1963, he founded Oral Roberts University, saying he was acting on orders from God. The campus is a Tulsa landmark, with its gold-painted space-age buildings and a 61-metre prayer tower. Students at the school are required to sign a pledge not to lie, curse, drink, smoke, gamble or have sex outside of marriage.

Roberts' ministry encountered rocky times in the 1980s, with the controversy over his struggling City of Faith medical centre in Tulsa. He told his followers that God would strike him dead if he did not raise $8 million US. More than $9 million US came in, but the facility closed two years later.

He came out of retirement in 2007 when his son, Richard, who had taken over his ministry and the presidency of Oral Roberts University, came under fire for allegations he'd misused university funds to support a lavish lifestyle. Richard Roberts resigned from the university.

Rebecca, Roberts' oldest child, and her husband, Marshall Nash, died in a plane crash in 1977. His youngest son, Ronnie Roberts, died of a self-inflicted gunshot in 1982.

Roberts is survived by his daughter, Roberta Potts, Richard Roberts, 12 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. 

With files from The Associated Press