AKRON, Ohio – Controversial televangelist Ernest Angley has died at age 99, according to an announcement Friday on the Ernest Angley Ministries website.
“Pastor, evangelist and author Rev. Ernest Angley has gone to Heaven to be with his Lord and Master at 99,” the announcement reads. “He touched multitudes of souls worldwide with the pure Word of God confirmed with signs, wonders, miracles and healings. He truly pleased God in all things.”
A native of Gastonia, North Carolina, Angley moved to Akron in 1954 and eventually turned into an internationally known figure, thanks largely to the syndicated TV broadcasts he launched in 1972.
His sometimes-outrageous faith-healing claims drew sharp criticism from many, including officials in Munich, Germany, who arrested him in 1984 on charges of fraud and practicing medicine without a license, and officials in Guyana, who in 2006 blasted him for claiming he could cure AIDS.
Angley’s odd speaking voice, mannerisms and toupee made him an easy target for comedians. Superstar Robin Williams mimicked Angley with a character named “Rev. Earnest Angry.” Williams also spoofed the preacher on “Saturday Night Live,” on a comedy album and in the TV sitcom “Mork & Mindy.”
But while the comics and critics were piling on, Angley was spawning a megachurch that brought in so much money that by 2005 he was able to buy a $26 million Boeing 747, which he used for overseas mission trips.
Angley’s debut in Akron 65 years ago came inside a huge tent in the Ellet area. Followers of his non-denominational, fire-and-brimstone presentations rapidly grew in number. Within months he moved into an old theater on West Market Street, then into a small building next to Ellet Memorial Cemetery, then into a big new structured nearby, naming it the Temple of Healing Stripes.
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Within four years of his arrival in Akron, Ernest Winston Angley had more than 3,000 followers.
He bought Cuyahoga Falls television station WBNX (Channel 55) in 1985, and in 1994 bought the Cathedral of Tomorrow on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls from fellow televangelist Rex Humbard and moved his main operation there.
The church does not release attendance figures, but observers say attendance at the 5,000-seat cathedral has dwindled significantly in recent years.
Part of the drop in membership can likely be attributed to a six-part Beacon Journal investigative series in 2014 in which 21 former church members detailed accusations of wrongdoing by Angley.
They claimed the church is a dangerous cult where pregnant women are encouraged to have abortions, childless men are encouraged to have vasectomies and Angley — who preached vehemently against the “sin” of homosexuality — was himself a gay man who personally examined the genitals of the male parishioners before and after their surgeries. They also said he turned a blind eye to sexual abuse by other members of his church.
Angley agreed to an interview before that series. During a 90-minute meeting in his office, he vehemently denied all of the accusations, claiming everyone was lying.
Four years later, one of the people mentioned in the series, former Assistant Pastor Brock Miller, filed a lawsuit against Angley and the church, claiming that Angley had sexually abused him off and on for nine years. Miller said he finally quit his job in 2014 because he could no longer handle the abuse.
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Angley and the church countersued for defamation. An out-of-court settlement was reached in February 2020 for an undisclosed amount.
And in early 2019, a former church member gave the Beacon Journal a 1996 tape-recording of a telephone conversation in which Angley admitted to having sexual relations with a male employee. The person on the other end of the call, the Rev. Bill Davis, a former longtime Angley associate, confirmed the tape was genuine.
Former close associates say Angley was never quite the same after his college sweetheart and wife of 27 years, Esther Lee, or “Angel,” as he called her, died in 1970 at the age of 49.
Angley spent significant time dealing with lawsuits.
The final installment of the Beacon’s 2014 series drew the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor. After an investigation the following year, the department sued Angley for $388,508 for back wages and damages. The suit alleged violations of minimum wage, overtime, record-keeping and child labor laws involving 238 current and former employees.
Angley appealed, saying the employees were volunteering to do “God’s work,” but in 2017 a judge upheld the ruling, and Angley shut down the buffet a few weeks later.
In 2018, however, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling and sent the case back to the district court for potential further action. A three-judge panel disagreed with the district court’s assertion that restaurant employees were “coerced” into working for free, making a distinction between “economic coercion” and “spiritual coercion.”