His shift to the Methodists allowed him more leeway in mixing secular elements like dancing into his television shows and represented another move toward the mainstream and a larger flock to lead.
Although many of Roberts' longtime supporters were appalled by what they saw as the secularization of Christianity, within three years nearly 40 million viewers were tuning in to the prime-time specials and they, along with his weekly Sunday show, generated 760,000 letters a month -- a gold mine of potential donors who were added to Roberts' increasingly sophisticated direct-mail database.
By this time, he had abandoned the flashy suits of his tent revival days in favor of tailored clothes.
In 1970, he published "The Miracle of Seed-Faith," which promised financial riches for those who gave to God -- which he called planting a seed of faith.
In 1975, Roberts announced plans for the university to build medical, dental and law schools. The annual budget for Oral Roberts Evangelical Assn. -- his umbrella organization -- approached $40 million.
But the first of a series of family tragedies struck in 1977 when Roberts' 37-year-old daughter, Rebecca, and her husband, Marshall Nash, died in a plane crash, leaving three children.
Roberts used the accident -- critics said in a calculating way -- in announcing plans for the City of Faith, his vision for a hospital, clinic and diagnostic and medical research centers that would merge medicine and prayer.
He struggled to raise money for the complex, which opened while still under construction in 1982 and was completed six years later. By that time, according to some estimates, its original price tag had doubled to $400 million and operating costs were high.
During one stretch in 1980 when funds were scarce, Roberts told donors about a vision he had while looking at the construction site.
"I felt an overwhelming holy presence all around me," Roberts recalled. "When I opened my eyes, there He stood some 900 feet tall, looking at me. There I was face-to-face with Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God."
Posters promptly popped up in Tulsa showing a traffic sign that read, "900 ft. Jesus Xing." Columnists, political cartoonists and comics all poked fun at Roberts' vision. Even many Christians expressed embarrassment or outrage.
The same year the City of Faith opened, Roberts' oldest son, Ronnie, committed suicide after battling drugs and alcohol. Two years later, a grandson named for Roberts died shortly after birth, despite the minister's bedside prayers.
He had other problems during this time as well.
In 1979, a former employee wrote a tell-all book -- "Give Me That Old-Time Religion" -- about, among other things, the preacher's expensive personal tastes: Italian suits, diamond rings, a private jet, luxury homes, fancy cars, country club memberships.
In 1983, former daughter-in-law Patti Roberts published a book in which she spoke of "huge amounts of money" made available to her and her former husband Richard through the ministry.
At the same time, those close to Oral Roberts saw something else: the mellowing of a hard-driving man.
"He has known suffering in a very, very deep dimension," longtime friend Charles Farah told biographer Harrell. "There is something to the suffering of a human being that purifies him."
Despite negative publicity and declining TV ratings, by the mid-1980s Roberts' organization was raising more than $100 million annually and employing 2,300 people.
However, he still struggled to cover his ministry's huge expenses, and in 1987, he made his "God will call me home" fund-raising plea to raise $8 million for medical school scholarships at the university. The dental school was closed in 1987, and two years later the medical school and City of Faith medical center complex were shuttered. Although his ministries were not implicated, the televangelist scandals of the 1980s also hurt Roberts' organization.
After his 1992 heart attack, he turned over the presidency of the university to his son Richard. But Richard Roberts resigned in 2007 amid allegations that he had spent university money on personal expenses at a time when the school was deeply in debt.
The elder Roberts continued to speak at charismatic churches and appear on televangelists' programs, especially those of fellow faith healer Benny Hinn.
It was a quiet coda to a life that had unfolded in front of millions.
"All of Oral Roberts' life was controlled by two primal drives -- a relentless restlessness and a sense of divine calling," wrote biographer Harrell. "They were perhaps the same drive in secular and religious versions."
Roberts is survived by his son,Richard; his daughter, Roberta Potts of Tulsa; 12 grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.
The funeral will be private, with plans for a public memorial service pending. His family requests donations to the Oral Roberts Ministry Healing Missions Fund, P.O. 2187, Tulsa, OK 74102, or online at www.oralroberts.com.
Lobdell is a former Times staff writer.