ARTESIA, California (AP) -- The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the Southern California televangelist and author who beamed his upbeat messages on faith and redemption to millions from his landmark Crystal Cathedral only to see his empire crumble in his waning years, has died. He was 88.
Schuller died early Thursday at a care facility in Artesia, daughter Carol Schuller Milner said. In 2013, he was diagnosed with a tumor in his esophagus that had spread to his lymph nodes and began treatment.
Once a charismatic and well-known presence on the televangelist circuit, Schuller faded from view in recent years after watching his church collapse amid a disastrous leadership transition and sharp declines in viewership and donations that ultimately forced the ministry to file for bankruptcy.
The soaring, glass-paned Crystal Cathedral -- the touchstone of Schuller's storied ministry -- was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011, and Schuller lost a legal battle the following year to collect more than $5 million from his former ministry for claims of copyright infringement and breach of contract.
Schuller, who preached in a flowing purple robe and outsized aviator glasses, suffered a mild heart attack in 1997 but was quickly back on the pulpit, saying "the positive person" is not afraid of life's surprises. In July 2013, he was hospitalized for days after a late-night fall at his home in Orange.
Schuller's evangelical Protestant ministry, part of the Reformed Church in America, was a product of modern technology. He and his late wife, Arvella, an organist, started a ministry in 1955 with $500 when he began preaching from the roof of a concession stand at a drive-in movie theater southeast of Los Angeles.
The church's motto -- "Come as you are in the family car" -- tapped into the burgeoning Southern California auto culture and the suburban boom of post-World War II America.
By 1961, the church had a brick-and-mortar home -- a "walk-in/drive-in church" -- and Schuller began broadcasting the "Hour of Power" in 1970.
In 1980, he built the towering glass-and-steel Crystal Cathedral to house his booming TV ministry, which was broadcast live each week from the cathedral's airy and sunlit 2,800-seat sanctuary. At its peak, in the 1990s, the program had 20 million viewers in about 180 countries.