Oral Roberts was a pioneer of televangelism, and he profited handsomely from it. Born into poverty in Oklahoma, he suffered from tuberculosis as a child, thereby learning early on that desperately sick people are willing to part with their money in exchange for some hope. You can make a good living this way if you travel around and take cash directly. Roberts' innovation was in lying to hundreds of thousands—millions!—of people at a time through the miracle of television, and taking checks in the mail.
His show "Oral Roberts Presents" was a forum for healing the sick and dispossessed through God's power, but God doesn't work for free. Roberts famously told his viewers in 1987 that God was going to "call him home" if he didn't raise $8 million from the poor dupes who believed what he said. The death threat worked: After climbing up into a "prayer tower" and going on a hunger strike—a "fast"—until he got his money, Roberts hit the $8 million mark.
He was worth every penny, though, because he had the rare ability to raise the dead. When someone died in the crowd at one of his revivals, he told an audience once, "I had to stop and go back in the crowd and raise the dead person so I could go ahead with the service." Sadly, he couldn't pull the trick off when his son Ronald committed suicide in 1981 after struggling with drug problems. We'd feel bad writing glibly about the death of the man's son if not for the fact that hundreds of thousands of people who suffered similar tragedies sent Roberts more money than they could afford to based on his toxic and preposterous lies.
Other toxic and preposterous lies: A 900-foot-tall Jesus appeared before him and commanded him to raise $120 million to build a hospital. The devil tried to strangle him in his bedroom, only to be driven away by his wife. Special holy water sprinkled on a billfold will bring prosperity. God told him he would return from the dead to rule over the Earth.
In addition to a legacy of fraud and theft, Roberts left us Oral Roberts University, a Christian educational institute that served as a playground for his son Richard, who ran it, and his wife. According to a 2007 lawsuit, Richard's wife spent school money to remodel their home 11 times in 14 years, employ her "underaged male" friends, run up $800 cell phone bills, spend $39,000 a pop on clothes at Chico's, and fly their daughter to Orlando for spring break on a private jet. The couple also allegedly forced professors and students to do their daughter's homework.
Anyway, he's dead.