Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson, the religious broadcasting pioneer who founded The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), died early on June 8 at his home in Virginia, the network confirmed. He was 93.
CBN honored the longtime TV host and one-time presidential candidate in a statement on Thursday, saying Robertson’s rise to prominence was rooted in what he called “a vision from God” to create the Christian news outlet in 1960.
No cause of death was given but Robertson faced a series of health challenges in recent years, including a horseback riding accident in 2017 and an embolic stroke in February 2018, according to CBN. His wife of 70 years, Dede Robertson, died in April last year at the age of 94.
“Despite his declining health and losing the love of his life … Robertson’s faith, obedience, and love for God never wavered,” CBN said.
Besides CBN, Robertson’s enterprises also included Regent University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia Beach; the American Center for Law and Justice, which defends the First Amendment rights of religious people; and Operation Blessing, an international humanitarian organization.
Early Life and Presidential Candidacy
Robertson was born into a prominent political family on March 22, 1930, in Lexington, Virginia, to Absalom Willis Robertson—who served for decades as a U.S. representative and senator from Virginia—and Gladys Churchill Robertson.
After graduating from Washington and Lee University, he served as the assistant adjutant of the First Marine Division in Korea before going on to receive a law degree from Yale University Law School in 1955. However, he failed his first and only attempt at a bar exam necessary for admission to the New York State Bar Association. He ultimately chose not to pursue a law career.
“I ended up at the headquarters command of the First Marine Division,” Robertson said, according to the official site of his military service. “The Division was in combat in the hot and dusty, then bitterly cold portion of North Korea just above the 38th Parallel later identified as the ‘Punchbowl’ and ‘Heartbreak Ridge.'” He was awarded three Battle Stars for his service in the Korean War and was promoted to First Lieutenant upon his return to the United States.
In 1952, Robertson met his wife, Adelia “Dede” Elmer, at Yale. He was a Southern Baptist, and she was a Catholic, earning a master’s in nursing. About 18 months later, they ran off to be married by a justice of the peace, knowing neither family would approve.
Robertson also campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988 and finished second in the Iowa caucuses behind Kansas Sen. Robert Dole. He later endorsed George H.W. Bush, who won the presidency.
After moving his wife and children to Virginia, Robertson bought a bankrupt ultra-high-frequency TV station in Portsmouth. He said he had just $70 to his name and a company bank account with a meager $3 initial deposit, but he soon found investors and CBN went on air on Oct. 1, 1961.
“He had no money to speak of, and he decided the Lord wanted him to have that station,” recalled Greg Laurie, senior pastor of the Harvest Christian Fellowship in California. “When it was all said and done, Pat got it for free. So that means not only did he have faith, but he was a good negotiator, too.”
Established as a tax-exempt religious nonprofit, CBN brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, disclosing $321 million in “ministry support” in 2022 alone. One of Robertson’s innovations was the use of a secular talk-show format on the “700 Club,” a hugely popular program on the network.
The political commentator’s guests eventually also included several U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
Trump remembered Robertson in a post on Truth Social, saying: “Today the World lost an incredible and powerful Voice for Faith and Freedom. Pat Robertson showed us that Belief in God produces results that can change the course of History. Pat’s legacy lives on in the many endeavors and lives that he touched. He will be greatly missed. Our hearts and prayers are with his Family!”
Other political figures and Christian leaders from across the nation have since offered condolences to the late media mogul who turned a tiny Virginia TV station into a global media phenomenon reaching hundreds of millions of people across six of the seven continents.
“Robertson was a giant among Christian leaders and contributed enormously to the cause of Christ. He led multiple millions to a saving knowledge of the gospel, and heaven will be populated by people who came under Pat’s influence. He pioneered Christian radio and television, paving the way for many of us who came behind,” Christian commentator Dr. James Dobson wrote in a post on Facebook.
Former Vice President Mike Pence also remembered Robertson in a post on Twitter, describing him as “an inspiration to millions” through his writings and advocacy.
“Pat touched countless lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ including mine,” Pence wrote. “I have long been inspired by his stand for America and our traditional values.”
Pat Robertson’s bold faith was an inspiration to millions and we mark his passing with a sense of personal loss. Through his writings, broadcasts and advocacy, Pat touched countless lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ including mine. I have long been inspired by his stand for…
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) June 8, 2023
Robertson’s son, Gordon, succeeded him in December 2007 as chief executive of CBN, which is now based in Virginia Beach. Robertson remained chairman of the network and continued to appear on the “700 Club.” He eventually stepped down as host of the show after half a century in 2021, with his son Gordon taking over the weekday show.
Robertson is survived by his four children, Tim, Elizabeth, Gordon, and Ann; 14 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren, according to CBN.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.