After leaving high school, Roberts furthered his education, and studied for two years at both Oklahoma Baptist University, and Phillips University. In 1938, he married a preacher's daughter, Evelyn Lutman Fahnestock. Their marriage lasted 66 years until her death on May 4, 2005. During their life together, they expanded his ministry from preaching in tents to preaching on the radio. Roberts was a pioneer televangelist (he began filming his revivals for TV in 1955) and attracted a vast viewership. Furthermore, he has written several books, such as Miracle of Seed-Faith and three autobiographies:, Expect a Miracle, Oral Roberts: Life Story, and The Call.
Roberts originally made a name for himself with a mobile big tent "that sat 3,000 on metal folding chairs" where "he shouted at petitioners who did not respond to his healing." Roberts became a traveling faith healer after dropping out of college.
He founded Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1963, stating he was obeying a command from God. The university was chartered in 1963 and received its first students in 1965. Students were required to sign an honor code pledging not to drink, smoke, or engage in premarital sex. Another part of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association is the Abundant Life Prayer Group, which operates day and night.
In 1977 Roberts had a vision from a 900-foot-tall Jesus who told him to build City of Faith Medical and Research Center and the hospital would be a success.
In 1980, Roberts said he had a vision which encouraged him to continue the construction of his City of Faith Medical and Research Center, which opened in 1981. At the time, it was among the largest health facilities of its kind in the world and sought to merge prayer and medicine in the healing process. The City of Faith was in operation for only eight years before closing in late 1989. The Orthopedic Hospital of Oklahoma still operates on its premises. In 1983 Roberts said Jesus had appeared to him in person and commissioned him to find a cure for cancer.
In 1987, during a fundraising drive, Roberts announced to a television audience that unless he raised $8 million by that March, God would "call him home" (a euphemism for death). Some were fearful that he was referring to suicide given the passionate pleas and tear that accompanied his statement. He raised $9.1 million. Later that year, he announced that God had raised the dead through Roberts' ministry.
He stirred controversy when Time reported in 1987 that he and his son, Richard Roberts as witness, claimed that he had seen his father raise a child from the dead. That year, the Bloom County comic strip recast its character Bill the Cat as a satirized televangelist, "Fundamentally Oral Bill". Also in 1987 "TIME stated that he was "re-emphasizing faith healing and [is] reaching for his old-time constituency." However, his income continued to slide (from $88 million in 1980 to $55 million in 1986, according to the Tulsa Tribune) and his largely vacant City of Faith Medical Center continued to lose money ($10.7 million in 1986 alone).
Harry McNevin said that in 1988 the ORU Board of Regents "rubber-stamped" the "use of millions in endowment money to buy a Beverly Hills property so that Oral Roberts could have a West Coast office and house. In addition he said a country club membership was purchased for the Roberts's home. The lavish expenses led to McNevin's resignation from the Board. In a 2004, television broadcast of Kenneth Copeland's Believer's Voice of Victory, the elder Roberts claimed to have experienced a vision in which "Smoke, and vapor, and blood" appeared "in the clouds in the skies above New York City and the east part of the United States, and which hung there for quite some time and then spread out across America, without touching the ground, and then God diffused it away from America and sent it out to the nations of the earth..." This was purportedly a "wake up call" to tell people that Christ's return is soon and to prepare for it. A transcript of this meeting is available online.
Currently Roberts, 90, is "semi retired" living in Newport Beach, California, and according to Charity Navigator Roberts earns $83,505 a year. The Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association has an overall efficiency rating of 1 out of 4 stars.
When his son, Richard Roberts, took a leave of absence from his position as President of Oral Roberts University on October 17, 2007 following allegations of misappropriation of school funds, Oral announced he would return to help fulfill this administrative role along with Billy Joe Daugherty, who was named as the executive regent to assume administrative responsibilities of the Office of the President by the ORU Board of Regents. Richard resigned his position on November 24, 2007.
From the late 1980s to 1992 Roberts maintained a residence in the exclusive St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida. Roberts would commute via private jet from his base in Oklahoma to Boca Raton airport for weekend visits to his golf club retreat. Most of the other residents of St. Andrews were Jewish, and since Roberts was identified by his first name of Granville when he was visiting Florida his presence went mostly unrecognized.
On May 4, 2005 Evelyn, Roberts' wife of 66 years, died in a Southern California hospital at the age of 88.
According to a 1987 article in the New York Review of Books by Martin Gardner the "most accurate and best documented [biography] is Oral Roberts: An American Life (Indiana University Press, 1985), an objective impressive study by David Harrell Jr., a historian at the University of Alabama. The strongest critical attacks are in two out-of-print books: James Morris' The Preachers (St Martin's, 1973) and Jerry Sholes's Give me that Prime-Time Religion (Hawthorn, 1979).