OAKLAND, Calif. — Harold Camping, the California preacher who used his evangelical radio ministry and thousands of billboards to broadcast the end of the world and then gave up public prophecy when his date-specific doomsdays did not come to pass, has died at age 92.
Family Radio Network marketing manager Nina Romero said Mr. Camping, a retired civil engineer who built a worldwide following for the nonprofit, Oakland-based ministry he founded in 1958, died at his home on Sunday. She said he had been hospitalized after falling.
Mr. Camping's most widely spread prediction was that the Rapture would happen on May 21, 2011. His independent Christian media empire spent millions of dollars — some of it from donations made by followers who quit their jobs and sold all their possessions— to spread the word on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the Judgment Day message.
When the Judgment Day he foresaw did not materialize, the preacher revised his prophecy, saying he had been off by five months. The preacher, who suffered a stroke three weeks after the May prediction failed, said the light dawned on him that instead of the biblical Rapture in which the faithful would be swept up to the heavens, the date had instead been a "spiritual" Judgment Day, which placed the entire world under Christ's judgment.
But after the cataclysmic event did not occur in October either, Mr. Camping acknowledged his apocalyptic prophecy had been wrong and posted a letter on his ministry's site telling his followers he had no evidence the world would end any time soon, and wasn't interested in considering future dates.
"We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ's return," Mr. Camping wrote in March 2012. "We humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing."
Mr. Camping graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1942 and started a construction business after the end of World War II, according to his nonprofit's website.
In 1958, he formed his Family Stations ministry. Three years later, he began hosting the Open Forum program, which was broadcast in 30 languages online and on a network of more than 140 domestic and international radio stations owned by Family Stations.
Each weeknight, Mr. Camping would transmit his own biblical interpretations in a quivery monotone, clutching a worn Bible as he took listeners' calls. He first predicted the world would end on Sept. 6, 1994, and when it did not, he said it was off because of a mathematical error.
After his billboards warning of pending doom popped up across the country in 2010 and 2011, Christian leaders from across the spectrum widely dismissed his prophecies while atheists and revelers poked fun at his prediction. Some also criticized Mr. Camping's use of millions of dollars in followers' donations to advertise Judgment Day.