Top Mormon Leader Hinckley Dead at 97
President-prophet brought church closer to American mainstream
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 28, 2008 3:55 AM CST
In this Nov. 23, 2005 picture, Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Mormon church, speaks during an interview in Salt Lake City. In the background is a portrait of Brigham Young, the church's second president...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Gordon B. Hinckley, at 97 the longest-lived president-prophet in the history of the Mormon church, died yesterday of complications of old age. Hinckley, whose energy and extensive world travels earned comparisons to Pope John Paul II, oversaw his church for 12 years during an era of unprecedented growth, the Los Angeles Times reports.

During Hinckley's tenure, the church swelled in membership by 37% and undertook more than 400 building projects worldwide. Known as a brilliant public relations strategist, Hinckley embraced technology and brought to the American mainstream the message that Mormons "are not a weird people"—but managed to do so without taking away the church's distinctive identity, a scholar notes.