Harold Camping, Serial Doomsday Predictor, Dies at 92

Harold Camping, the radio preacher who first predicted the end of the world in September 1994, and kept on doing it until October, 2011, died on Sunday from injuries suffered after a fall.

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Harold Camping, the radio preacher who famously (and incorrectly, obviously) predicted the end of the world on more than one occassion, died on Sunday from injuries suffered after a fall. Camping's Family Radio network announced his death in a late Monday statement. He was 92 years old. 

Camping's fame — and his fortune — rose and fell on his ability to promote his calculations for the end of the world, often through his Family Radio broadcasts. His last big Doomsday prediction, promoted for years by the ministry, fooled thousands into abandoning their worldly possessions and devoting their lives to spreading the news that the end was due on May, 21, 2011. That day, according to camping, would be the day of Jesus's Second Coming. It wasn't, so he revised his big prediction to October 2011, a date that also fed off the coming hysteria over 2012 Mayan "prophecies." 

After that, too, turned out to be untrue, Camping's multi-million dollar radio business all but collapsed: In 2007, the company had $135 million in assets. By the end of 2011, it had sold off most of its satellite stations, with assets at $29.2 million. The network reportedly took out a loan to keep going after its post-2011 predictions dropped income from donations by 70 percent. 

Camping emerged from his failed prediction with little to say to his followers in the wake of international media attention. (His first prediction for the end of the world was actually way back in 1994.) Some of his adherents suffered from financial and spiritual ruin after taking his predictions too literally. "I'd advise him to please understand...we're not in the business of financial advice," he told the International Business Times shortly after the May date "There are lots of people who lost their jobs," Camping said of the recession. "Somehow they all survived...people cope," he added. He encouraged those ruined by his predictions to continue to follow God.

As the Religion News Service explains, Camping wasn't always seen, even among evangelicals, as an outsider doomsday predictor. His decades-old radio network was downright mainstream for evangelical Christians until his predictions began to creep onto the air in the 1980's. Since then, his influence both dwindled its reach and hardened its grasp, catching just a relative few followers — albeit highly devoted ones, at least until 2011.

Camping's ability to cope with his failed calculations deteriorated after the October revision turned out to be wrong, too. In March of 2012, he finally admitted that perhaps no one could really predict the date of the rapture. At the time, Family Radio said in a statement:

We also openly acknowledge that we have no new evidence pointing to another date for the end of the world. Though many dates are circulating, Family Radio has no interest in even considering another date. God has humbled us through the events of May 21, to continue to even more fervently search the Scriptures (the Bible), not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding.

That was the last, attention-grabbing announcement from Camping or his station, until this week.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.