GAPYEONG, South Korea: Sun Myung Moon, the self-styled messiah from South Korea who founded the Unification Church famed for its mass weddings and business empire, died Monday at the age of 92.
Sun, who was hospitalized with complications from pneumonia more than two weeks ago, died shortly before 2 a.m. at a hospital in the church’s headquarters in Gapyeong, east of Seoul.
Revered by his followers but denounced by critics as a cult-building charlatan who brainwashed church members, Sun was a deeply divisive figure whose shadowy business dealings saw him jailed in the United States.
His church, which he built into a global religious movement, was best known for organizing mass weddings that married thousands of identically clad couples in stadium ceremonies.
Sun had been on life support since Friday after having suffered multiple organ failure.
A church statement said Sun’s body would “lie in state” for 13 days prior to his funeral on Sept. 15.
Born to a farming family in 1920 in what is now North Korea, Sun said he had a vision aged 15 in which Jesus asked him to complete his work.
Rejected by Korean Protestant churches, he founded the Unification Church in 1954 – a year after the Korean War.
As the church rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s, spreading to the United States, it spawned a multi-billion dollar business empire encompassing construction, food, education, the media and even a professional football club.
Media holdings include the Washington Times newspaper and United Press International news agency, and it also dominates the fishing and distribution industry supplying sushi outlets in the United States.
A church-affiliated firm, Pyeonghwa Motors, established a joint car-making business in North Korea in 1999.
Throughout his life, Sun courted political leaders in what critics said was a bid to lend legitimacy to his church, which was condemned as heretical by some Christian organizations.