Pat Robertson, the Baptist televangelist who helped build Christian conservatives into a powerful political force, died Thursday at his Virginia Beach, Virginia home. He was 93 years old.
The death of the 1988 presidential candidate was announced by the Christian Broadcasting Network, which Robertson founded in 1961 and where he hosted the flagship “The 700 Club,” for more than 50 years.
Robertson was a polarizing figure who presented a genial persona to his electronic flock while also making public comments that infuriated liberals, including blaming Americans’ “sinfulness” for the 9/11 attacks, likening feminism to witchcraft and saying that liberal Protestants embodied “the spirit of the antichrist.”
Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson was born in Lexington, Virginia, to a political family – his father, Willis, was elected to the House of Representatives when he was 2 years old, and served for 14 years before being elected to the U.S. Senate, where he held his seat for 20 years.
A graduate of Washington and Lee University, Robertson served as a Marine in combat in the Korean War. He later earned a J.D. at Yale Law School before entering New York Theological Seminary, where he graduated in 1959.
That same year, he moved to Tidewater, Virginia, convinced he was called to build the nation’s first Christian television network despite not personally owning a TV. He raised funds to purchase a defunct UHF station and on Oct. 1, 1961, CBN began broadcasting.
It grew from a weak signal that could barely reach the city limits into a modern media powerhouse, with a worldwide reach via cable, satellite and online.
The flagship program, “The 700 Club,” was born out of a telethon in 1963, in which Robertson asked a “club” of 700 viewers to pledge $10 a month. In 1966, the program began airing daily, and included coverage of major news events and interviews with a wide range of guests eventually including prominent politicians and world leaders, among them presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
He was one of the first evangelists to seek commercial sponsors and to use toll-free numbers for prayers and contributions, The New York Times reported, and was the first religious broadcaster to have a Washington newsroom. He also did local broadcasts in foreign countries, eventually broadcasting in 70 languages to 200 countries.
Robertson also built a satellite network that included “CBN Family,” which was sold in 1997 to Fox Kids Worldwide for $1.9 billion, The Times said. Money from that sale helped Robertson found Regent University, a religious school based in Virginia Beach, along with a charity operation and a Christian legal advocacy group.
Robertson stepped down as host of “The 700 Club” in 2021, and his son Gordon, CBN’s president and CEO, took it over.
CBN’s expansive audience helped make Robertson a leading figure in conservative politics as evangelical Christians became more politically engaged in the 1980s and 1990s.
Robertson’s clout grew enough for him to launch a bid for the presidency in 1988. While unsuccessful in his attempt to counter then Vice President George H.W. Bush’s campaign for the Republican nomination, the effort increased Robertson’s prominence, and the “Christian Coalition” he created in 1989 became a powerful force in conservative politics, helping to deliver both the House and Senate to the Republican Party in 1994 by mobilizing voters.
His outspoken demonization of homosexuality and people with AIDS, comments blaming Haitians for making a “deal with the devil” that led to the devastating 2010 earthquake there, depiction of Islam as a violent religion and pronouncements against the teaching of evolution garnered widespread criticism.
His wife of 67 years, Dede Robertson, died in 2022. He is survived by four children, 14 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren.