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Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong dead at 93

PASADENA, Calif. -- Herbert W. Armstrong, a pioneer TV evangelist and head of a small but wealthy church, died quietly at his home just two days after he had named a successor because of failing health. He was 93.

Armstrong died at 9 a.m. EST Thursday while resting in his late wife's favorite chair at his home on the campus of Ambassador College, operated by the evangelist's Worldwide Church of God.

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Armstrong had announced his successor Tuesday, telling his followers in a letter that if he died, Joseph Tkach, 59, director of church administration for the past six years, would become head of the 80,000-member church.

'I am in a very weak, physically weakened state enduring severe pain and with virtually no strength whatsoever,' Armstrong wrote to church members.

Garner Ted Armstrong, twice driven from his father's fold for alleged philandering, said from his home in Tyler, Texas that he was saddened by the death but unhappy he was not chosen successor.

'It is quite personal, a grievous sad thing to me ... that by genes, all of my background, my ministry ... I could not be chosen to become his successor,' Armstrong said.

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Armstrong said his father will be buried Sunday or Monday in a family plot in Altadena, Calif.

The evangelist founded and ruled the Worldwide Church of God, a small and introverted but wealthy sect repeatedly rocked by scandal.

Armstrong called himself the only true 'chosen Apostle of Christ' and was one of the pioneers of the 'electronic pulpit' that led to today's media preachers such as Oral Roberts and Jerry Falwell. He built a multimillion-dollar empire on radio sermons and nationally circulated publications such as the magazine, 'The Plain Truth.'

Armstrong was widely known for his weekly 'The World Tomorrow' TV and radio broadcasts, which began in the 1960s and have been carried by hundreds of stations worldwide.

Although Armstrong was seen on television as recently as last Sunday, he taped his last broadcast in August. Church spokesman David Hulme said a decision will be made later on whether the taped appearances will continue.

The church was repeatedly torn by the family feud and charges of financial misconduct. In 1984 it lost a $1.26-million libel and slander suit filed by the former wife of a church executive who claimed the organization tried to ruin her reputation.

Although small, the church had a tax-free income estimated at about $70 million a year, larger than Billy Graham's and Oral Roberts' organizations combined. Much of the money came from members who were asked to contribute up to 30 percent of their incomes.

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One of Armstrong's most famous prophecies, made in a mid-1950s booklet, was his prediction that Germany would bounce back from its defeat in World War II and attack the United States with nuclear weapons in 1972. His church would 'flee or be taken to a place of safety' in the Middle East, he wrote, and Christ would return in 1975.

He withdrew the booklet when Armageddon did not come on his schedule.

Armstrong, an advertising salesman from Des Moines, Iowa, with no college education, became interested in religion through his wife, Loma, who died in 1967.

Starting his radio ministry in 1934 in Eugene, Ore., he moved his base to Pasadena in 1946. The Worldwide Church of God was founded in 1968.

Armstrong has two other surviving children, daughters, Beverly Gott of La Canada-Flintridge, Calif., and Mrs. Vern Mattson of San Luis Obispo, Calif.

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