Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial founder of the Unification Church, died Monday in South Korea, two weeks after he was hospitalized with pneumonia, a church spokesman tells the Associated Press. He was 92.
In the weeks before his death, church members around the world had been conducting prayer vigils and fasting for Rev. Moon’s health, notes the Washington Times, a paper that was founded by Moon and quickly posted a long piece on his life and legacy following news of his passing.
Moon was born in a town that is now in North Korea and founded his religious movement in 1954 in Seoul. “He preached new interpretations of lessons from the Bible,” explains the AP. His church gained widespread notoriety around the world in the 1970s and 1980s largely thanks to the mass wedding ceremonies in which Moon tied thousands of his followers. The church was often accused of brainwashing followers and pushing them to part with their money.
These accusations “helped make Rev. Moon the target of repeated investigations,” notes the Washington Times. He eventually served 13 months in federal prison after he was convicted of income-tax evasion in 1982. In later years, the church took on a much lower profile and Moon focused on building a business empire.
Although the Unification Church claims to have millions of members around the world, many have raised skepticism about the figure, saying the real number is no more than 100,000.