LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Evangelical broadcaster Harold Camping, who rallied thousands of followers and stirred an international media frenzy with a failed doomsday prophecy two years ago, has died at his home near San Francisco, a spokeswoman for his radio outlet said on Tuesday.
Camping, who was 92, died peacefully in Alameda, California, on Sunday surrounded by members of his family, said Nina Romero, marketing manager for the Oakland-based Family Radio network.
Camping drew international followers and headlines in 2011 with broadcasts predicting the biblical Judgment Day would occur on May 21 of that year, launching an end-of-the-world countdown that prompted some believers to spend their life’s savings in anticipation of being swept into heaven.
To publicize his forecast, Family Radio posted more than 2,000 billboards around the country declaring that Judgment was at hand, and believers carried the message on placards in shopping malls and street corners.
As far away as the Philippines, volunteers donned neon-colored T-shirts and walked the main thoroughfares of Manila, handing out pamphlets to passersby.
Some atheists observed Camping’s forecast in their own way, with one group organizing a party under the banner of “countdown to backpedaling,” on the assumption that Camping and Family Radio would end up altering their prediction.
Days after the apocalypse conspicuously failed to materialize, Camping emerged from a brief seclusion to say he had merely miscalculated, and he pronounced a new Judgment date for October 21.
Asked what advice he would give to followers who gave up much of their worldly possessions in the belief that his doomsday forecast would come true, Camping drew a comparison to the nation’s economic slump.
“We just had a great recession. There’s lots of people who lost their jobs, lots of people who lost their houses ... and somehow they all survived,” he said.
It was not the first time the tall, gaunt former civil engineer had been wrong. More than two decades before, he publicly acknowledged a failed 1994 prophecy of Christ’s return to Earth. His repeated pronouncements of specific Judgment dates put him outside the Christian mainstream.
In June of 2011, Camping was said by his radio network to have suffered a stroke that left him hospitalized but he was believed to have continued to lead a small, low-key Sunday prayer group in Alameda.
Despite Camping’s failed track record in predicting the apocalypse, at least one follower denied disillusionment.
“Amazingly, when I go back and look at some of these things in the Bible, I have to conclude that he was largely correct,” retired transit engineer Robert Fitzpatrick, 62, said when reached by telephone on Tuesday at his Staten Island home in New York City.
Fitzpatrick said he harbors no bitterness even though he spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from his nest egg to pay for subway ads promoting Camping’s 2011 prophecy and his own self-published book about it, “The Doomsday Code.”
“I know that his teaching has been discredited in the eyes of the world,” Fitzpatrick said, adding he still believes the Judgment is coming but that no one can accurately predict it.
And, unlike Camping’s original forecast of cataclysmic earthquakes ripping the world apart, he now believes the end will be “very quick, very merciful.”
Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Andrew Hay