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 today at a care facility in Artesia, daughter Carol Schuller Milner says. In 2013, Schuller 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.
Schuller started his 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, 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. Trouble began in 2006, when Schuller's only son took over as senior pastor; he ultimately left amid a bitter family feud two years later. More trouble followed, and through it all, viewership and donations declined until the ministry filed for bankruptcy in 2010. The Crystal Cathedral 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. (Read more obituary stories.)