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Televangelism Pioneer Rex Humbard Dies at 88

Elvis Presley, millions of others were faithful viewers in the 1950s and beyond.

Rex Humbard, a frontrunner in televangelism who ministered to millions of weekly viewers—including Elvis Presley—died September 21.

Humbard died of natural causes at a hospital near his Florida home, according to his ministry's press release. He was 88.

One of the frontrunners of televangelism, Humbard averaged 8 million viewers on Sundays from 1952 to 1999, his ministry estimates. His sermons broadcasted to more than 2,000 stations worldwide in 91 languages from his 5,400-seat Cathedral of Tomorrow church in Akron, Ohio.

Elvis Presley watched "his preacher" on Sundays, and Humbard officiated Presley's funeral service.

Humbard began a career in media at age 13, when he began broadcasting on KTHS radio in Arkansas, singing gospel songs and inviting listeners to hear his father preach. In the early 1940s, Humbard began a daily radio program.

Humbard eventually brought the programming and distribution ideas from radio into television in the early 1950s, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.

"It had an aura of show," Eskridge said. "It was more of a TV product than a church service. He understood the medium."

In its Dec. 27, 1999 edition, U.S. News & World Report named Humbard one of the 25 shapers of the modern era.

Humbard took more of an empire-approach in the 1970s when he began expanding his efforts. He owned Mackinac College in Michigan, an advertising agency, a plastics company, and a large office building in Akron.

After his ministry suffered internal disputes and extensive borrowing, it closed the college and began selling properties. Humbard began to shrink away from the public scene after he was removed from his televangelist position in 1982 and eventually ...

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