The Oakland-based radio preacher, who died Sunday, drew international attention, much of it in the form of ridicule, when he predicted — more than once — the precise date of the Rapture and then had to concede his error. He was 92.
Camping died at his home in Alameda after suffering a fall last month, according to a statement from his Family Radio Network.
Convinced that he had unlocked hidden clues in the Bible, Camping predicted the end of the world no fewer than 12 times, beginning in 1978, according to an aide, and was persistent in the face of his repeated failures. The most famous of his prophecies was his next to last, when he named May 21, 2011, as Judgment Day and sent acolytes on a cross-country tour to warn people in the months leading up to it.
When May 22 dawned, Camping was apparently holed up in his Alameda home, having provided fodder for comedians and TV talk show hosts but disappointing his small band of followers, some of whom had quit jobs and ended relationships in anticipation of their ascent to heaven. The next day, he conceded that he hadn't worked out the date "as accurately as I could have" and that the apocalypse actually would begin Oct. 21, 2011.
In June 2011, Camping was hospitalized after a minor stroke.
Camping's fruitless attempts at prophecy emerged from an apocalyptic strain of Christianity that seeks clues in Scripture and in the modern world to the End Times predicted in the New Testament. It is an idea that is especially alluring during times of economic or sociopolitical turmoil, said Doug Weaver, a professor at Baylor University who followed Camping's career.
"I just think it's a social phenomenon," Weaver said. "American religion does allow for a lot of ideas to flourish in the marketplace."
Harold Egbert Camping was born July 19, 1921, in Boulder, Colo., but moved as a child to Southern California. He graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in 1942 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and began his own construction business shortly after the end of World War II. A heart condition had kept him out of the draft, according to Matt Tuter, his radio producer.
Camping grew up in the Christian Reformed Church, where he became an elder and Bible teacher. In 1958, he joined with two partners to form a nonprofit Christian radio network, Family Stations Inc., according to the network's website. He eventually sold his construction business and went to work full time as president and general manager of Family Radio, which later claimed to broadcast Bible teaching on more than 140 stations, as well as by shortwave and the Internet.
Camping issued his first Judgment Day prophecy in 1978, according to Tuter, straining his relations with the Reformed Church. When he came up with a new prediction in 1988, "They'd had it with him," Tuter said, and Camping was told he could no longer teach Sunday school. He quit the church and later proclaimed that the "church age" had ended because Satan had taken over all churches.
He made another prophecy in 1994: The world would end sometime that September. "The judgment throne is coming," he proclaimed. He was wrong again.
In the hubbub surrounding his May 2011 prediction, Camping acknowledged that his strange obsession had alienated many people, including most of his family. "It's so bad, most of my family I can't even talk about it with," he said at the time.
Camping was the author of about 30 books and pamphlets, most of which were offered for free. Although his ministry brought in significant donations — Tuter estimated that it spent $100 million advertising the May 21 Judgment Day — Camping himself appeared to live modestly, as if convinced that his earthly existence was fleeting.
Camping is survived by his wife, Shirley, five daughters and one son. A sixth daughter died previously.