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Paul Crouch, Co-Founder Of Trinity Broadcasting Network, Dies

Paul Crouch, who along with his wife Jan, founded a TV network that went on to become the largest Christian television network in the world, died on Saturday, the network announced.

Trinity Broadcasting Network said it is believed that he died from on-going heart problems. He was 79.

If Crouch's name doesn't ring bell, his image surely will. You may have caught him hosting the two-hour variety show Praise the Lord, along with his wife, who is known for her big, pink hair and dramatic makeup.

Quoting a book chronicling the network, The Los Angeles Times reports that by the mid-1980s, TBN was "the country's most-watched religious network."

The Orange County Weekly paints a mixed picture of Crouch. In its obit, the weekly calls him both a "titan of American Christianity" and a man who spent the hard earned money of his working-class viewers with little regard.

Crouch also became a pioneer in what's called the "prosperity gospel," which essentially holds that God wants his followers to be rich.

During the past couple of years, Crouch's family has been haunted by sensational scandals about their wealth.

The New York Times ran a long piece about it in which they chronicle the couple's two sets of luxury homes, the secrecy surrounding the millions they received in donations (they received $93 million in 2010) and the family's struggle to keep control of the empire.

As part of the story, the Times interviewed Crouch's grandaughter, Brittany Koper, who was fired for allegedly stealing $1.3 million, but who also opened up about what she said were the company's financial improprieties. The Times reported:

"In two pending lawsuits and in her first public interview, Ms. Koper described company-paid luxuries that she said appeared to violate the Internal Revenue Service's ban on 'excess compensation' by nonprofit organizations as well as possibly state and federal laws on false bookkeeping and self-dealing.

"The lavish perquisites, corroborated by two other former TBN employees, include additional, often-vacant homes in Texas and on the former Conway Twitty estate in Tennessee, corporate jets valued at $8 million and $49 million each and thousand-dollar dinners with fine wines, paid with tax-exempt money.

"In the lawsuits and interviews, Ms. Koper, 26, also charges that TBN has spent millions of dollars in sweetheart deals with a commercial film company owned until recently by a son of the Crouches, Matthew, including poorly monitored investments made after he joined the TBN board in 2007.

"'My job as finance director was to find ways to label extravagant personal spending as ministry expenses,' Ms. Koper said. This is one way, she said, the company avoids probing questions from the I.R.S. She said that the absence of outsiders on TBN's governing board — currently consisting of Paul, Janice and Matthew Crouch — had led to a serious lack of accountability for spending."

On his website, Crouch is described as an "amazing servant of God."

His official biography says that, today, Crouch's network reaches every major continent and over 18,000 TV and cable affiliates around the world. The cable company even has a service in Spanish, Arabic and Farsi, as well as a cable channel in Asia, Europe and Russia.

His bio goes on:

"Dr. Crouch and TBN have been the recipients of numerous awards and citations of appreciation by both local and national leaders including the Golden Angel award from the Excellence in Media organization and the Parents Television Council Entertainment Seal of Approval, given to both the TBN and Smile of a Child networks for producing and promoting positive, pro-family programming. Dr. Crouch was also appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Private Sector Initiative Project."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.