With her swoops of blond hair, heavy eye makeup and singsong voice, Jan Crouch was one of the most recognizable and enduring figures in Orange Country’s televangelism pantheon.
Crouch, who co-founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network with her husband more than four decades ago, died Tuesday, just days after she suffered a stroke. She was 78.
Her family made the announcement Tuesday on the California-based Trinity Broadcasting Network's website. A spokesman for the network didn't immediately return a phone call.
Born Janice Bethany, she was the daughter of a prominent Assemblies of God minister. She met Paul Crouch – a child of missionaries turned ham radio enthusiast – in the mid-1950s in Rapid City, S.D., where he came there after seminary.
She was “a 98-pound angel” in a red dress, Paul Crouch later recalled. He was an aspiring pastor.
The couple married and worked in ministries in South Dakota and Michigan before moving to Burbank in the early 1960s, where he got a job managing the denomination’s new motion picture and television division.
Paul Crouch invested $20,000 of his savings in a UHF station in Tustin that later became KTBN Channel 40. He later said a vision prompted the couple’s first forays into satellite religious programming, and they launched the network in 1973.
Their first set had folding chairs and a shower curtain. But by the late 1980s, their telethons, broadcast from Costa Mesa, raised more money than Jerry Lewis’ muscular dystrophy telethons.
The fund-raisers featured tote boards that kept track of both dollars raised and souls saved.
Trinity officials say its programming is now carried by over 5,000 television stations. TBN bills itself as the world's largest Christian television network, with a vast international following.
Over the years, the ministry has been criticized for glitzy sets and the Crouches’ lavish lifestyles. Some mainstream theologians argued their prosperity gospel ran counter to Christian teachings about the perils of wealth – especially since lower-income, rural Southerners were among the most faithful donors to their tax-exempt charity.
Pledges from viewers, mostly in small increments, helped pay for the couple’s use of a private jet and TBN’s 30 homes in California, Texas, Tennessee and Ohio. These included a pair of mansions in a gated Newport Beach community. Jan, for a time, was paid $361,000 a year, a bit less than her husband, to serve as the network’s vice president and director of programming.
Over the years, the Crouches were also embroiled in various disputes. They parted ways with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker – early collaborators who later founded a scandal-doomed television ministry – clashed with the Federal Communications Commission and battled a former employee who sought to publish a book containing lurid allegations about Paul.
TBN wrangled with a Los Angeles civic group over control of the Easter Sunrise Service at the Hollywood Bowl. And the Crouches also feuded with some of their own relatives. One of their two sons, Paul Jr., eventually departed from board positions he had held at TBN.
But Jan Crouch enjoyed vast, loyal support from viewers of “Praise the Lord,” the show in which she appeared with her husband. Fans found inspiration in her family story, lifestyle and charity work.
Affected by the poverty she saw on a trip to Haiti, Jan Crouch founded a humanitarian organization called Smile of a Child, which provides food, toys and medical services around the world. With her husband, she also helped fund soup kitchens, homeless shelters and international charities.
Paul Crouch, who died in 2013 at the age of 79, once told a journalist the gaudy sets that typified their broadcasts reflected Jan’s “good little decorator’s eye.”
Her tastes, which ran to baby-doll curls and frilly dresses, gave pause even to those who admired the couple’s ministry. Morning News columnist Steve Blow, while praising the Crouches’ sincerity, dubbed her look “Tammy Faye Antoinette.”
The network had announced last week that Jan Crouch had suffered a stroke in the Orlando, Fla., area, where TBN owns the Holy Land Experience theme park. On Tuesday, her family memorialized her as “Momma Jan, quick with a smile, a gift, and a word of encouragement.
"Those who battled for the Kingdom of God knew her as a fighter — someone who didn’t give up, someone who fought relentlessly to get the Gospel around the world,” said Matt Crouch, her son and TBN's president, in a written statement that also cited other family members.
2:27 p.m.: This post was updated throughout with staff-written content.
This post was originally published at 11:14 a.m.